Watering Holes: White’s Club

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#37-38 Saint James Street, London, England

If location is everything, then White’s undoubtedly is too: the club was founded at #4 Chesterfield Street in 1693, when Francesco Bianco (“Francis White”) organized it to sell hot chocolate and tickets to the King’s Theatre and Royal Drury Lane Theatre productions. In 1778 it moved to #37-38 Saint James Street, also in London, and has been there since, remaining mercifully immune to progress of any sort or shape (save one application of fresh paint in 1970).

Clubs judge themselves, and are judged, by the caliber of both their membership and of their waiting lists. White’s excels in both. Past and current membership has included, or does include, Beau Brummell, King Edward VII, the sixth Earl of Dartmouth William Legge, Prince Charles, and Evelyn Waugh (who made earning admittance his life’s work).

In 1783 White’s became unofficial headquarters to the Tory party. Brooks’s Club, down the street, similarly hosted the Whigs. A few especially affable gentlemen held membership in both, and used to walk between them during meetings. Through it all, White’s remained, and remains, a bastion of all things traditionally and refinedly masculine: discussions around the bar range in concentration from upland pheasants to falconry to horsemanship to the engravings on side-by-side wing guns.

The club keeps a table squarely in front of a large bow window, for which it is famous: the chair at the head of the table has been White’s de facto throne since its installation. Beau Brummell held court there till he moved to America in 1816, when Lord Alvaney took it up and, legend has it, bet a friend 3,000 pounds one day on which of two raindrops would be the first to reach the bottom of a window. Gambles like these are recorded in White’s house ledger, kept near the table, in which all table bets are noted. Bets marked down include, in addition to raindrops, social marriages, sporting events, political developments, and whether or not the French Revolution would fail.

White's Club, London, England.

White's Club, #37-38 Saint James Street, London, England.

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