Once a good, traditional club, now transformed into a sort of butique hotel with the charm and ambiance of an airport lounge.
- Full name: The Lansdowne Club
- Location: 9 Fitzmaurice Place, Berkeley Square, London W1
- Type: Social. Just a step away from a commercial club
- Formed: 1935
- Membership requirements: Proposed and seconded by at least two current members who has known the candidate for years – or by an expression of interest and an interview.
If you were lucky enough to visit the Lansdowne club 20 or 30 years ago, you would have found a club much like other traditional gentlemen’s clubs in London. The Lansdowne may, even back then, have been one of the less formal ones, but it was still very much a traditional hangout for the upper-middle class.
At some point during the last 20 years or so, though, someone on the board or in the management got it into their head that the Lansdowne needed to change. And change it has. No longer recognizable as a traditional members’ club, the Lansdowne has the charm and atmosphere of an overly self-conscious, here-today-gone-tomorrow, boutique hotel.
Gone is the pale green walls of the Round Room, replaced with a dreadful custom printed wallpaper with some kind of map; more reminiscent of Disneyland than of a gentlemen’s club. To top off the total destruction of the club’s most famous room – the room where the peace treaty with the newly independent American colonies were signed by Lord Shelburne in 1783 – the old, dark oak floor has been covered partly by a carpet clearly bought from the estate of a bankrupt 3-star airport hotel, and partly with what quite frankly appears to be cheap green linoleum. And the bar has been moved so that it now completely covers the old Robert Adam fireplace. The overall impression is that of a tacky business lounge at a small airport in Texas.
And sadly it is the same everywhere. Old charm has been scrubbed away or covered with acrylic paint, replaced with plastic perfection. Whenever you see a bust or statue, you have to supress the urge to tap it to check if it is just a hollow plastic cast. The only exception is the dining room, which was already like an airport lounge. This has now been transformed into a room where Art Deco flirts with both the 50s, the 60s and the 90s. Surprisingly, given what they have done to the rest of the club, it is not wholly unsuccessful. It would seem they have gone so far past tacky-american that they are approaching style from the opposite direction.
The plastic-fantastic Texas inspiration is still present in the dining room, though, but in the form of the waiting staff. “Hi, my name is Peter and I’m going to be your waiter tonight” is a phrase that can be calculated to send shivers down the spine of proper English gentlemen. On the plus side, they knew their menu, and having clearly been trained at a Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, were responsive, polite and helpful. The food was good, too. Outside the restaurant, though, the staff at the Lansdowne are totally clueless. The porters couldn’t care less if you’re a member or not and the bar staff can’t tell their port from their sherry or their Armagnac from their Cognac.
All in all, the Lansdowne has managed to transform itself, undoubtedly at great financial expense, from a good, traditional for-the-members-by-the-members club, to something that has all the charm and ambiance of an airport terminal.