A home from home for the exiled Scot, The Caledonian Club is moving with the times.
Words by Corrie Bond-French.
The Caledonian Club has counted everyone from John Logie Baird, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sean Connery and the late Right Honourable John Smith as members
“The Caley” or “Scottish embassy” has offered a slice of Highland spirit and custom behind its doors on Halkin Street since 1941.
Yet the club has happily embraced changes that would have members at other gentlemen’s clubs sputtering into their port glasses.
Thistle and tartan
Founded in 1891, it was originally based in St James's before being bombarded during the Second World War.
The historic club is thistle and tartan to its core.
There are more than 200 malt whiskies behind the bar, award-winning haggis on the menu, kilt fittings twice monthly and a regular number of events for its societies.
Ruth Davidson was just one notable recent speaker.
Club secretary David Balden (pictured) has witnessed many changes at the club during his 26 years of loyal service.
“When I first joined, the club was a different animal,” says David.
“The bar was busy at lunchtime, then everybody upped to the dining room at quarter past two.
“Then after lunch it was back down to the smoking room for cigars and a glass of port or whisky [and] the deals would be done.
“That was the way business worked, but that just doesn’t happen now.”
Women were admitted as members in 2010, before the law changed to oblige private clubs to allow them to join.
“In the early days a lot of wives of members wouldn’t come to the club. They weren’t allowed into the bar or into the smoking room and they felt like second-class citizens.
“Thankfully we’ve moved on from that, and for us it has certainly been a positive,” says David.
Smoking outside only
David adds: “Our members’ bar was gentlemen-only, now it’s fully inclusive.
“The smoking room is no longer the smoking room. It’s now the Morris Room, with members not allowed to smoke inside. But we do have the terrace outside and our cigar sales are going up.
“The fact that that has changed over the years has actually helped it become more of a home from home.”
Other changes, such as allowing mobile phones to be taken out and looked at, but not used as phones, in the bar have also struck the right balance between history, tradition and modern technology.
A recent development of a business centre, where members can now use their laptops has been well received.
“We are a private members’ club so we’re not going to be shouting from the rooftops that we’re here. But at the same time we do want people to know that we’re here,” says David.
“There’s always a new member who’ll say, ‘I wish I’d known about this place 20 or 30 years ago’. It’s quite frustrating.”
This article originally appeared in Belgravia magazine.
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