Queer goings-on in Clubland

The stuffy establishments of St James's have a gay rival, reports Andrew Tuck
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The Independent Online
When The Townhouse, a new gentlemen's club in Mayfair, opens next month, it is planning to lure away members from its famous posh rivals in St James's. It will try to attract them with the quality of its meals, impeccable service and the promise of private dining-rooms. But its owners believe they have one other feature that will knock all the competition for six: you have to be homosexual to join.

And in a stroke of good timing, The Townhouse is also hoping to attract the successful gay Tory City boys, lawyers and accountants who, last week, were given the nod by William Hague and Michael Portillo that it is now safe to leave their very cramped closet.

The club, at 3 Green Street, near Marble Arch, is the brainchild of John St Clair and Patricia Madden. For several years they jointly ran Gay London Professionals, a weekly drinks party and a forum for homosexual men in suits to talk business. In response to demand they decided to open a men's club, operating six nights a week. After years of searching for a suitable venue, they found a disused club in an Edwardian townhouse and now, after an extensive refurbishment, it is about to welcome the first members, who have paid up to pounds 500 to join.

John St Clair, a homosexual who has worked as photographer, artists' model, Peter Stringfellow's PR and a social diarist, claims they have been swamped with applications. "There are a lot of men who feel uncomfortable going to the gay bars and restaurants in Soho. They feel intimidated and obliged to go home and change into casual clothes before going for a drink. Here they'll be able to come straight from work ... the younger Soho kids might want to be brought here as a treat, and then they can dress up for the evening."

Patricia Madden - who has known John for 15 years and is not homosexual but has the campest CV imaginable, including a stint as Miss Leeds - says that most people enrolling are aged 25 to 45, and most have opted for the pounds 500 life membership. Mr St Clair adds that they have been successful at recruiting from the St James's clubs. "I've had several saying, 'Why should I join when I already have a club in St James's?' I write back and say, 'Well, here you won't get in trouble for chatting up the waiter.'" The cheque is soon in the post.

The pair dismiss the idea that it is odd to launch a conservative all- male club in the Nineties. "Men like to be in clubs with men," explains Mr St Clair without any air of doubt, adding, "I really don't think we'd get applications from lesbians." Both he and Ms Madden seemed slightly stuck, however, when asked how they would stop heterosexual men from enrolling.

Indeed, the club is a curious mix of old and new attitudes. Members are promised that the club will be discreet at all times, which in these upfront times makes gay life sound taboo. Yet to succeed as a place to conduct business, The Townhouse will depend on straight male and female guests feeling comfortable about being wined and dined in a gay club. But perhaps that won't matter now that Tory Boy is Gay Boy.