The best address in all of clubland – and an amazing clubhouse. A historical club – with very few members – making this one of London’s most exclusive clubs.
- Full name: National Liberal Club
- Location: 1 Whitehall Place
- Type: Originally a political club, now social. Very exclusive, non-commercial private members’ club
- Formed: 1882
- Membership requirements: Proposed and seconded by at least two current members. Short waiting list.
Probably the most stunning interior of all the traditional Gentlemen’s clubs in London – but visitors are usually duly impressed long before walking through the front door. Not only does the club have the most impressive address of all London clubs – 1 Whitehall Place – but the building itself, design by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed the Natural History Museum), stands like a royal palace just off the embankment. Overlooking the Thames and the London Eye, the lucky members of the National Liberal Club not only are able to enjoy their summer drinks on one of London’s best terraces, but also have the best view in the city of the New Year’s firework.
Through the front doors, you enter the Main Hall. Strict porters are there to gently guide away the curious and the American tourists who has mistaken the club for the neighbouring Royal Horseguards Hotel. But if you are lucky enough to be allowed further in, you will enter the rotunda with the largest free-standing marble staircase in Europe. An absolute magnificent piece of design, it replaces the old staircase after it was damaged during the war.
As you wander around the club, though, you cannot help but notice the tilework that covers walls, ceilings and columns throughout the building. It is certainly impressive, but the colours and style of the tiles have sometimes lead to comments likening certain parts of the clubhouse to a very large and heavily decorated public lavatory. The 1st Earl of Birkenhead, who was once told off for regularly stopping by the club to use the men’s room without being a member, in a story much enjoyed and repeated in the club, simply replied “Good God! Is it a club too?”
Jokes aside, the interior of the National Liberal Club is glorious. The Smoking Room, which now serves as a members’ sitting room, is stunning – as is the Dining Room, the Bar and the many club’s function rooms. As you walk around the enormous clubhouse it is hard to believe that the club originally was in fact substantially bigger yet, having been forced to sell off parts of the building to the next-door hotel during those dark clubland years of the 60s and early 70s.
The National Liberal Club today is open for both political members, of the liberal persuasion naturally, and non-political members. This was not a desperate attempt to attract more members, though. The club today is financially strong, and even though the club has only about 1300 members – making it one of the smallest clubs in clubland – there is apparently a waiting list to join. First of course you need to know a minimum of two existing members who are willing to propose and second you as a member.
The astonishing clubhouse, the amazing location and the small number of members, makes this one of London’s most exclusive clubs. It isn’t traditionally counted with such clubs as White’s, Brooks’s and Boodle’s, but in our books, it just manages to scrape together enough points to count as a tier 1 club. If what you’re after is an ultra-traditional club with dark leather sofas, old paintings and a large smoking room, this is as good as it gets!