The Naval and Military Club is hard to fault: modern food, cheap drinks and great events, what’s wrong with it? Oh yes – you won’t get in unless you’re with a member.
Everyone refers to the Naval and Military Club as the ‘In and Out Club’, which is a reference to the giant signs that adorn the gates to guide taxi drivers at the old Clubhouse on Piccadilly. These days though, the club is found at St James Square, a short walk from Piccadilly Circus. Most members here are likely to be pulling up in a Jag or Bentley, so there’s a car park round the corner on Babmaes Street. The current clubhouse is a stunning townhouse, easily identified by the proud Union Jack flag flying outside.
Once inside, you’re spoilt for choice. As well as eleven different areas for meetings, private dining and conferences, there’s an incredible courtyard, frequently used for private events for up to 250 guests. More commonly, members and their guests make use of the three bars and restaurants. The Long Bar is the traditional, stuffier bar with a focus on serving a large range of whiskies and old English ales, but it does offer stunning views through the vaulted windows of the Square. More relaxed and contemporary is the Goat Bar, which is adorned with a stuffed goats head gifted to the club by Rudyard Kipling. It’s next to the sauna, pool and gym, and also shows sporting fixtures on a big screen occasionally. Finally, down by the courtyard, there’s a small third bar serving Champagne all day.
The Naval and Military Club was founded – unsurprisingly – for military and naval personnel, but recently membership has been opened up to all (well, all who can convince two existing members to nominate them and afford the annual dues). This has resulted in a more interesting and diverse clientele, although on the whole you should still expect members here to be rigidly upper middle class.
It’s largely divided between Sloaney Chelsea types and the country set, who are only in London because they have to be, and are making use of the cheap and luxurious accommodation available here. The staff know most members by name, and concentrate their efforts on looking after them. The numerous function rooms at the venue means that they do play host to a number of guests at premieres, launches and private parties. Recent celebrity visitors have included Pixie Geldof, Mark Ronson, Daisy Lowe and Sandi Thom.
The Naval and Military Club offers a contemporary menu, available either in private dining rooms, one of the bars, or in the coffee room. Choices such as pork belly with caramelised apples, sea bass with lobster mash and foie gras make up the contemporary British menu, with reasonable prices averaging £12-£20 for a main course.
Drinks at the Naval and Military Club are one of the biggest delights about getting in. A glass of wine starts at around £4, and cocktails are just £5, while a double spirit and mixer comes in at under £4, too. At less than half the price of lesser London members’ clubs, you can afford to drink twice as much. They could do with a more contemporary and adventurous cocktail list, but the bar staff will whip you up anything if you know what you want.
The Last Word
The Naval and Military Club is a slice of London history, yet perfectly contemporary at the same time. It might be frustrating if you want to go here and don’t know a member to take you in, but once you do get in it’s deliciously satisfying taking advantage of the stately surroundings and temptingly cheap alcohol.