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With its efficient service and reliable staff, the recently refurbished City of London Club knows how to keep clients happy, as Louise Troy finds out
What links the creator of the police force, the scourge of Napoleon and the founder of the Rothschild dynasty? The answer is that all of them – Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington and Baron Nathan de Rothschild respectively – were founding members of the City of London Club back in 1832.
The private members’ club, which now hosts regular events, occupies a magnificent Palladian building on Old Broad Street. Its imposing cream, black and gold frontage is topped off with white and
blue flags fluttering in the breeze. The City has grown up around it, leaving the club right next to the Natwest Tower and just minutes from Liverpool Street tube station.
You enter the club through two sets of tall glass doors, which ooze old-school glamour, into a dusky-pink atrium with a sweeping staircase. However, while the club retains its traditional feel, the events suite underwent a dramatic refurbishment in autumn last year to turn it into a modern venue.
The recent changes, according to regular client Angus Carlill of securities company Stifel Nicolaus, have allowed the venue to keep its competitive edge. ‘It clearly needed a refurbishment as it was looking a little frayed at the edges,’ he says. ‘But it really offers decent value for money, especially compared with the hotels and livery halls which are its competition in the area. The main thing is that it’s very efficient – we need to get through a three-course lunch in 60 minutes because we’re on tight schedules, and they can deliver that consistently.’
In fact, the only real drawback is that the club – like so many of London’s listed buildings – has an issue with disabled access. The steps at the front are the building’s only entrance, and with such a narrow pavement outside, installing a ramp for wheelchair access just isn’t possible.
The building’s second floor is entirely given over to corporate and private events, allowing those outside the charmed circle of the City of London Club’s 1,200 members to soak up some of its history.
Going up in the lift to the second floor, the showpiece is the Garden Room, which is licensed for weddings. Although it holds just 50 seated on round tables or 100 theatre-style or standing, it appears much larger because of its mirrored wall and the patio doors, which open on to the paved terrace. In summer, the roof garden is a suntrap, perfect for barbecues and cocktail parties. It allows guests to sit outside on balmy evenings in the shadow of some of London’s newest and most striking skyscrapers.
On the other side of the building is the City Suite, made up of three adjoining rooms, carved up by partitions, which can be hired separately or together. Two are named after club founders – Masterman and Wellington – and the City Room completes the set. Individually, they hold between 14 and 20 seated, or 20 to 40 standing, but together they can be used for a drinks reception for up to 100 guests. If they are used theatre-style, venue manager Maxine Copus recommends that they hold no more than 70, as the relatively low ceiling height limits the maximum size of projector screens.
These rooms used to have green and cream decor, but have been updated in rich reds and golds. They look out on to Fountain Court – a privately owned courtyard that is an oasis of calm in bustling Old Broad Street – and are decorated with paintings loaned by the club’s members.
The final dedicated events space is the green and red Hardwick Room, which seats ten or holds 15 standing. Although its dimensions are modest, it’s perfect for business lunches and round-table sessions, and is one of the club’s most popular rooms. Joy Evans, a senior partner at the EN Group, uses it for informal feedback sessions with human resources workers around eight times a year. She agrees that the refurbishment has improved the venue. ‘Before, the place was very classic, with muted colours,’ she says.
‘It started to look a bit tired, but now it’s vibrant and much more zingy. Mind you, it wasn’t until it was refurbished that we thought, “Oh yes, it was a bit tired before!”’ Like many of the City of London Club’s clients, Evans is attracted as much by the staff – ‘they’re friendly, efficient, discreet and reliable’ – as the location and facilities. ‘Best of all, it’s the same people,’ she adds. ‘I find hotel rooms are never satisfactory, as the staff change so often. At the City of London Club, we feel quite special.’
However, the five rooms on the second floor aren’t all the club has to offer. Its ‘party piece’, if you like, is that when the club closes to members at 5pm on weekdays, another four rooms come into play – two restaurants, a bar and the smoking room (‘Although of course no one’s allowed to smoke in there any more,’ sighs Copus). All of these rooms are available at weekends, too.
The main dining room downstairs can hold 100 seated or 150 standing, and certainly looks very ‘clubby’, with its understated brown and beige furnishings. The other restaurant is the Salisbury room, which serves a lighter, modern menu. Its mint colour scheme and pretty chandeliers give it a more delicate, almost feminine, atmosphere – a distinct contrast to the blokeishness of the main dining room. It can be used for dinners and presentations for up to 40 people, or cocktail receptions for 50.
While the club food tends towards the hearty end of the spectrum – game and grilled meats feature heavily – events organisers are offered something lighter and more modern, such as roasted scallops with a chicory tart or herb-crusted wasabi tuna.
The second floor has its own private kitchen and service corridor under the direction of banqueting chef Mark Robinson. The club itself also has a head chef, Adrian Matthews, who superintends the restaurants. This allows the venue to offer not just the usual three-course set menus, fork buffets, canapés and breakfasts, but more out-of-the-ordinary options such as a suckling pig roast. Surely even the Iron Duke – a notoriously picky eater – would approve of that?
Address: 19 Old Broad Street, EC2N 1DS
Tel: 020 7588 8558
Number of function rooms: 9
Main Dining Room (150/120/300)
Upper Smoking Room (–/–/200)
Garden Room (100/50/100)
Roof Terrace (bookable with Garden Room) (–/–/50)
Masterman Room (14/0/0)
Wellington Room (14/0/0)
City Room (30/18/30)
City Suite (60/60/100)
Hardwick Room (10/–/–)
Salisbury Room (40/40/50)
Contact: Maxine Copus, venue manager
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.