Daniel Synge suggests Four late-night drinking clubs

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the elderly gent belonging to a Pall Mall club who once defined a private members' club as "a refuge from the vulgarity of the outside world, where people still prefer a silver salt-cellar which doesn't pour to a plastic one that does" illustrates perfectly the continued reluctance of gentlemen's clubs to join the 20th century. Thankfully, London's new arrivals in clubland have registered both social changes and current tastes, while still managing to preserve a healthy respect for the past. Had enough of the impersonal touch at restaurants, bars and pubs? Get a member of one these clubs to propose you and join the waiting list like everybody else.

Theatrical connections will help to get you into The Green Room, 9 Adams Street, WC2 (0171-379 7496) as the club was originally founded by the Victorian actor and impresario, Sir Henry Irving, in 1877. For more than 100 years the cavernous rooms off the Strand were purely an actors' domain complete with oak dining table, library (still stocked with well- thumbed copies of Who's Who in the Theatre) and a full-sized billiard table, but, following one particularly severe financial crisis, the rules were relaxed to bring in women members in 1982, and, more recently, "evening membership". As the nearby theatres close down for the night, a younger, scruffier crowd of stage-hands and their guests now gather round the green baize under the watchful glare of distinguished past presidents and members, like Rex Harrison, C Aubrey Smith and Ballard "The Major" Berkeley, whose dusty-framed portraits still hang in every corner. Open 12pm-2am, membership pounds 100pa

Food and opera are the main concerns of members at Peg's Club, 117 Mercer Street, WC2 (0171-240 2234). Since opening just a year ago, owners Andrew Campbell and Joseph Casal Lopez have already notched up their first 500 members, many of whom hold key jobs at the nearby Covent Garden Opera House and the National Gallery. Others, including a sprinkling of rock stars and ponytailed young-turks-about-town, come from more progressive areas of the arts. On the site of former actors' dive McCready's in Seven Dials, the club owes its name to Peggy Waffington, the 18th-century actress and mistress of Lord Garrick. "Together they were the Ken and Em of their day," explains Campbell. The connection still lives on as Garrick club members are tempted daily into Peg's intimate dining room by Joseph's uncomplicated Spanish home cooking. There's even a whitewashed Andalucian- style bar downstairs - ideal for those overheated casting meetings. Open 11am-1am, membership pounds 75pa

For a night of genuine 18th-century-style roistering, try Blacks, 67 Dean Street, W1. Founded in 1992, the club occupies the site of a former tea-room frequented by Samuel Johnson. Restored to its rambling Georgian splendour, complete with the largest collection of Hogarth prints in the world, by former Norfolk poacher Tom Bantock and Guiseppe Mascoli, the building offers "a refuge from the disgusting political correctness" of today.

"It's hard to sum up a typical Black's member. However, it's difficult to find one with an IQ of less than 140," says Bantock, who describes himself as "a completely irresponsible drunkard".

Prospective candidates first need to be approved by a 150-strong all- female committee, all allegedly hand-picked by Bantock. Once in, the new member is free from the strict rules imposed by nearby clubs like The Groucho, as long as they respect Bantock's ban on ponytails (Bantock claims to have cut off seven so far), mobile phones and chewing gum. "Apart from these rules my only problem is with people who haven't had a drink too many," he adds. For the morning after, breakfast (full English, of course) is available for members and non-members alike. Open 11am-2am, membership (London) pounds 200pa

If any of these excellent private establishments should bar your entry, a short walk brings you to Helen Law's smoky first floor retreat, The Troy Club, 22 Hanway Street, W1, where the serious drinking goes on into the small hours. Be warned - come Friday night, the narrow staircase is clogged with other hopefuls. Apply a smattering of charm, however, and you may find yourself squeezing onto a sofa with John Lydon or The Pogues. "We've always been bohemian here," says Helen, before revealing her unique approach to troublemakers: "I either glare at them or give them a massage." Open 11pm-2am, membership pounds 30pa