I have an issue with private members’ clubs. I’ve been members of a few over the years and, as appealing as their exclusivity sounds, I’ve never really felt I’ve got the most out of the membership. Sure, the privacy and exclusivity of the bar may be a draw initially, but it can soon wear off; and the benefit of various facilities are never used often enough to justify the fees. What’s more, the idea that they represent a home from home is a fallacy; I’m often more conscious of putting people out, bound by various rules and regulations, such that I feel more a stranger than a member.
So I cancelled. I won’t name names but gone was the trendy Soho loft, I said sayonara to the shabby chic Shoreditch salon, and gave the St James’s old boys’ club a cheerio. I was joining the great unwashed and thoroughly enjoying my new-found freedom; experiencing whatever bar I chose when it suited me, using my laptop in rooms I thought I shouldn’t at times I couldn’t, going through doors I’d hitherto have to avoid…and I loved it. I’d never desire membership again. Until I stepped foot into 12 Hay Hill.
12 Hay Hill is everything private members’ clubs aren’t. It does everything private members’ clubs don’t. It is the restaurant you want, without the snobbery; the reading room without the regs; the office out of the office. Or, for that matter, the actual office (they have spaces to rent). It’s a hub; far from members closing ranks like some public school clique, its layout feels more like Google’s offices with a start-up’s temperament. Interaction is encouraged, but not forced, and one senses a frisson of entrepreneurial energy fizzing through the place. It’s a business centre, really, but in a way that only Mayfair can pull it off. And if you want to relax…well, hey, that’s up to you. But they cater for that, too.
Lunch there really was a privilege. It was Michelin dining unlike any other Mayfair Michelin restaurant. The food aside – Shaun Rankin creates unfussy but classy takes on high end food for a fraction of the price of his contemporaries; Dover sole fish fingers, anyone? – it oozes class but without the pretensions of a self-styled restaurant. The very fact it’s referred to as the ‘dining room’, as opposed to pitching itself as a restaurant, gives you an idea of the fuss-free format. More informality exist in the bar, doubling as a bistro with a lunchtime cafe-style offering, and there’s even the al fresco option from the roof terrace – over-looking Berkeley Square, naturally.
Members’ clubs are all about their conducive surroundings, whatever may be your intent, and finding that balance to cater for all is paramount. To establish that ambience, the club offers a revolving exhibition of contemporary art, curating displays to compliment each area of the building. Artists such as Frank Stella and David Lachapelle, as well as a selection of some of London’s most exciting emerging artists, including Danny Rolph and Hannah Knox, grace the walls and provide talking points; it’s like membership to your own art gallery.
But the trimmings aside, it’s its ethos that really marks 12 Hay Hill out. The pinnacle of membership is to take out an enviably-serviced office – what that address would do on your business card, eh? – but there are, equally, business facilities for the more straight-forward ‘social’ membership. Theirs is a vision ‘to attract a new community of international business people’. It’s old school Old Street, where beards and desert boots aren’t de rigeur, but suits and ties aren’t a prerequisite either. The brainchild of former equerry Simon Robinson, a man whose role in the royal household was as the architect of state processions, his CV gives you an idea of what you might expect as you set foot through its hallowed doors.
The irony is I’m not a member. Yet.
For further information, including details of facilities and a full list of artworks on display, visit www.12hayhill.com. For membership enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.