It was my father-in-law’s birthday yesterday, and he and K, my mother-in-law, opted to stay overnight and have the celebratory dinner at “the Club.” This is the Union, University and Schools Club, one of those old fashioned, wonderfully anachronistic institutions of an all but bygone era. Despite the fact that they didn’t always admit women, and still get a bit snippy about the dress code, I can’t help it: I love the Club.
I’ve had a thing about private clubs since I was a child. Specifically gentlemen’s clubs, which is pretty funny considering they’d never let me darken their door. I am completely besotted with everything from the heavy artwork in gilded frames to the silver water jugs made dewy with ice. The library at the Club is my ideal room fantasy brought vividly to life. I find the entire place enchanting. They still hand out menus in the restaurant that only list prices for men. Ladies, don’t you know, must not be troubled with such details – although we’re evidently robust enough to clear the three flights of stairs necessary to reach our one and only restroom. A bit passive aggressive of the old boys, don’t you think?
K and P told me a great story yesterday of staying in one of these clubs with reciprocal rights while in London one year. K descended the stairs dressed very smartly in a matching trouser suit. A turbaned, liveried Indian greeted her at the door to the dining room and said, “Was Madam wishing to take breakfast in the dining room?” Well, yes, K said, Madam was. The man bobbed his turban as he gave K a careful once-over, and then he looked up and enquired politely, “And where was Madam’s skirt?”
And I think it’s the sheer pomposity that appeals to me. It’s so outrageous. Preposterous on just about every level I know. So completely paused in time. There’s this great hushed silence to the Club that is the closest thing I know to actual time travel. The walls at the top of the stairs on the second floor are covered with the profiles of all these men – cameos, black cut-outs against a white background, and they’re fantastic, I so badly want to pinch the one of the big fat cat in a penguin suit with a stogie jutting from his fat lips. These cameos delight me, they tickle me, they’re part of my deep Club Love.
It’s the sort of place that makes its own melba toasts. And they serve things like Gruyere souffle, which is what I had for entree last night. Then I had a parmesan crusted veal scallopini for main. Ginger pudding with marmalade ice-cream, complete with a slab of honeycomb that could do double service as an ice-pick, for dessert. Other people had things like duck legs, and chocolate fondant. I mean, you just don’t see a meal like that every day. Even the food seemed straight out of something by Oscar Wilde. And meanwhile, all the men were shifting uncomfortably at table.
“What is it?” I said to Llew.
“I’m really warm,” he whispered.
“Well, take off your tie, for god’s sake.”
Llew glanced around the room and then leaned across the table.
“I can’t,” he said.
Still not understanding, I said, “No wonder you’re steaming. You’re still wearing your jacket. Take it off.”
Llew looked exasperated. Sometimes I’m not altogether clued in.
“I can’t,” he said again.
My turn to look around, and finally the penny dropped. Every man in the room was wearing a jacket and tie. They’re not allowed to remove them. All part of maintaining the gorgeous, rarefied absurdity that is the Club’s especial domain. Wonderful.