In clubland, there's no hype like no hype at all

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The Independent Online

The first rule of Milk and Honey Club is that you don't talk about Milk and Honey Club. Another rule of Milk and Honey Club is that you don't even talk about fighting.

Indeed, in an age where most clubs will do almost anything to generate publicity, this one is so secret even its members can't always find it.

The organisers of the club have already caused a stir among the painfully trend conscious in New York City. Last week they opened in central London in a black hole of anti-publicity.

Hidden behind an anonymous black, garage-like facade on a Soho street, the club has no number, sign, or even a visible door. It is the brainchild of New York-based barman Sasha Petraske and London entrepreneur Jonathan Downey who already owns the successful Match bar chain.

And then there are those rules: no "hooting, hollering or shouting", no "fighting or talking about fighting" and no wearing of hats. Gentlemen are forbidden to introduce themselves to ladies, and there is absolutely no "name-dropping or star f***ing".

The concept is almost a throwback to the speakeasies of the 1920s. Guests have to phone in advance, and enter the candlelit bar via a double set of dark velvet curtains. Jazz plays quietly in the background, and cocktails are the order of the day. "It seems really contrived, but it's actually very practical," said Petraske, 29, who opened Milk and Honey New York in January 2000.

"I got really sick of bartending for people who just got drunk and acted like children – people who expect to have their mess cleared up by somebody else.

"It's about returning to the respect of our grandparents' generation," he said, a little fancifully. "Something got lost in our parents' era: the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. We're just trying to re-raise the standard."

Petraske's Manhattan venue is hidden behind a derelict tailor's shop on the Lower East Side and changes its phone number on a frequent basis to deny access to those who have broken the rules. High profile victims have reportedly included film director Quentin Tarantino. "It's not about who you know," said Downey. "People assume it's exclusive, but it's not. The door policy is very democratic – the tables go to whoever called first."

One way to guarantee everyone is going to talk about it of course is to tell them not to, and the London venue has already gained 100 members by word of mouth – though the first membership was revoked as early as the second night. With Dale DeGroff, America's celebrity "bar chef" arriving next week, and chef Shaun Rowlands poached from the nearby Ivy restaurant, the owners predict that their list will be full before the end of May.

Laura Abrahams, editor of the CrushGuide to London's bars and clubs admitted she walked past the venue twice before actually finding it. "Just because it worked in New York doesn't mean it will work here," she said. "But people love exclusivity, and etiquette is big business."

And she adds: "There is definitely a market for what they're trying to do. It's incredibly difficult to find somewhere nice and relaxed to drink in Soho – everything's either heaving or horrific. I suspect it will be difficult to keep a place like this secret."

Which, of course, is surely, the whole point.

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