The only nightclub The Queen has ever visited, Annabel’s Club was London’s very first private members’ club and it’s still one of the most decadent.
Located in Berkeley Square, Annabel’s Club is easily reached from Green Park or Bond Street tube stations. Of course, if you’re drinking here, you wouldn’t do anything so common as catching the tube (just leave the Bentley outside with your driver), but at least it would prepare you for the less-than-glamorous entrance to the club. Once you descend the precariously-steep stairs, you’ll find an elaborate drinking den that resembles a gentleman’s club from the days of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ – it’s all dark mahogany woods, library-style panelled walls and old-fashioned portraits of people you probably should recognise but don’t. The restaurant is equally dark and sombre, but at least it stays open until 3am.
Things are changing at Annabel’s. You can’t have failed to notice that London’s nightclubs have had to adapt to cope with the economic crisis, and even institutions with as much history as Annabel’s need to attract a crowd that have cash to splash.
That means you’re not going to see quite as many titled toffs and public school boys (the aristocracy burned their money a generation ago), but in their place are a new breed of bankers, celebrities and nouveau riche Eurotrash. They’re just as much fun, and – more importantly – they can afford the recently-increased £1,000 joining fee and £1,000 a year membership dues. Not everyone is happy about these changes. The old guard view newer members with suspicion and the newcomers sometimes complain that the rules and strict dress code are too stuffy. Despite the friction, the vibe is always friendly, refined and indulgent.
Making sure that members old and new all get their money’s worth are the capable bar team, who are genuinely a cut above the average West End cocktail shaker. They always offer personal attention and make you feel special.
Nothing has changed in the Annabel’s restaurant in a long time, but if it’s not broken, why fix it? It’s infamous for blood-soaked steaks, expensive caviar and the signature bitter chocolate ice cream, which is good enough to distract you from the restaurant’s rather depressing oak panelling and dim lighting. A three-course meal with wine here will set you back at least £100-£150 a head. The restaurant is so popular with its members that they’ve introduced a Christmas hamper now (useful if you’re giving the cook time off over the festive season).
For such an expensive venue, Annabel’s don’t put a great deal of thought into the wine list or cocktail menu (although both are fairly lengthy). The rather predictable offerings are rescued by attentive bar staff, who are keen to show off their skills and create something for you off-menu based on the preferences you tell them. Prices are high – expect to pay at least £10 a drink, with many of the cocktails rising to £15. Bottle service isn’t excessive though, and the prices won’t surprise anyone who drinks in Mayfair on a regular basis.
The Last Word
Annabel’s Club has more history than any other London nightclub, and at least as much atmosphere. It’s not as Sloaney as it used to be, but you’ll still feel privileged if you’re offered membership. A must-do for a certain kind of Londoner.