It was late and the club was cosy and full. The open fires burnt high and the wine flowed. The warm, panelled rooms of Blacks, a new women's club in the heart of Soho, furnished with 18th-century paintings and furniture, exuded a relaxed, yet flirtatious, atmosphere.

A group of theatre people nestling into the huge sofas around the edge of the room chatted about their new play and compared the silver lapels on their Gaultier jackets.

'Isn't it fab?' a red-head said as she danced around, tugging at the laces that ran the length of the back of her jacket. 'Simon bought it for 50 quid in the sale and it's too small for him, so now it's mine.'

In another corner lurched a journalist from Cosmopolitan. 'You've got nice tits,' he leered, falling towards a blonde in a black top.

'What do you mean?' she scoffed. 'You can't even see them.'

Undeterred, he reached for a bottle of wine. 'I don't need to. I just know you have.'

As he continued in this vein, the young woman stood up and delivered her punchline: 'I really must go, I have three children waiting for me at home.'

Tail between his legs, her tormentor weaved his way across the room in search of another victim.

'That's a good one,' said the blonde, smoothing back her hair and taking a drag of her cigarette. 'I must remember to have three children more often.'

Blacks opened its doors just before Christmas. It started with a committee of 100 women, each of whom was invited to put forward two other members. Men are not allowed on the committee, although they can become members.

The staff are women, and women are given special treatment. The observer who wanders around the room ensuring that glasses are full and that everyone is relaxed will also make cups of coffee for women who are driving home; the men have to beg a lift or walk. And women members are allowed to misbehave within reason, but if a man puts a foot wrong, he is out.

Ironically, the concept of the club came from a man. Tom thought that, if a club could attract the 'right-on', hip, professional woman who could afford pounds 100 a year to join and would regularly frequent its comfy confines, the men would follow. (This night, they outnumbered the women by about two to one.)

Tom seems to be on to a winner. Membership forms were being bandied about and signed cheques were left lying on tables.

'Women have so few places to go,' Tom said. 'It's the men who go places and who are members of the clubs, and it's the women who end up following them around.'

Tom has certain prerequisites, however, that have to be satisfied before men are allowed into the club. 'We will not admit any 'my little ponytails',' he said, as he ordered a sherry. 'We thought of scalping them as they came through the door, but my lawyer said that we could be sued for loads of money if we did that.'

Downstairs, wooden tables and chairs sit in various alcoves where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served before more open fires.

This evening everyone looked good under the candles. At a couple of tables, powerful women and pretty men were still eating at midnight. Eventually, they moved upstairs for digestifs and a chat on the sofas.

The mood had changed slightly. It had become naughtier, like an out-of-control dinner party where innuendo and double entendre abound. The fluidity of the groups made chatting-up easier. The women sat and the men circulated, lighting cigarettes, filling glasses, their conversation becoming progressively less erudite.

'I know a man who can make a woman reach orgasm just by looking at her,' a man muttered. 'Really?' his male companion replied. 'How?' The man took another swig before revealing the secret. 'Through ESP, of course.'