Somewhere for the weekend, Sir? The world of the club

Looking for smart accommodation in central London, with a good restaurant and bar, and the company of like-minded souls? For £30 a night? It's possible if you've got the right connections. Oh, and it helps if you're a man. Laura Dixon explores the secretive world of the club

You might imagine that the downturn in tourism to London means hotels are having to give away rooms. Some may be, but prestigious properties such as the Marriott County Hall are still demanding nearly £200 for a double room. But you can find somewhere inexpensive to stay in central London. The secret is to belong to a private members' club, where accommodation in areas such as the Strand, Pall Mall and Chelsea can cost as little as £40 per night. They range in standard from suites with chandeliers to more modest rooms, and all are in exclusive locations away from the madding crowds. The catches are that you have to find a club prepared to accept you as a member – and pay a joining fee, plus an annual subscription.

You might imagine that the downturn in tourism to London means hotels are having to give away rooms. Some may be, but prestigious properties such as the Marriott County Hall are still demanding nearly £200 for a double room. But you can find somewhere inexpensive to stay in central London. The secret is to belong to a private members' club, where accommodation in areas such as the Strand, Pall Mall and Chelsea can cost as little as £40 per night. They range in standard from suites with chandeliers to more modest rooms, and all are in exclusive locations away from the madding crowds. The catches are that you have to find a club prepared to accept you as a member – and pay a joining fee, plus an annual subscription.

Gentlemen's clubs were popular in London in the late 18th and 19th centuries as somewhere for the upper echelons of society to gather, debate and gamble over a cup of coffee, the luxury of the day. Pall Mall and St James's Street were thetwo prime locations for the clubs, some of which still exist. There are variations on membership restrictions, details of which are kept firmly under wraps in the most exclusive clubs.

The Reform Club, 104-5 Pall Mall, is one of these. It has a particularly illustrious history, not least for being where Jules Verne described Phileas Fogg accepting the bet to travel round the world in 80 days. Accommodation is available here, but prices and membership details remain a closely guarded secret.

The RAC Club, established in 1899, is just down the road at 89 Pall Mall (020-7930 2345). This imposing building not only has bedrooms, dining rooms, bars and a fabulous swimming pool and Turkish baths, but also offers exclusive access to a country club and golf course in Epsom. There are reciprocal clubs all over the world. Membership here follows the traditional format of being proposed by a member and seconded by another, both of whom must have known you for two years. Accommodation starts at £80 for a double room, but that's once you have paid a joining fee of £1,450 and a yearly subscription of between £122 and £750.

The Lansdowne Club on Berkeley Square (020-7629 7200) boasts a gym, swimming pool, three bars and various dining and function rooms, and also traditional pursuits such as archery. Rooms range in price from £57 for a single to £85-130 for a double, but again you have to be proposed and seconded to become a member and there's subscription and a joining fee to pay in addition.

The Army and Navy Club (020-7930 9271), established in 1837 on St James's Square, has a marble reception area, a stuffed kudu head, and even a giant penguin brought back from the Scott expedition. As the name might suggest, it's open to commissioned officers of all the forces and their families, and modest double rooms cost £55 from Friday to Sunday, £88 during the week, but without the military connection you will be denied access.

The East India Club (020-7930 1000) is next door. It has 67 rooms at prices ranging from just £45 to £305 a night. It was formed as a club for the East India Shipping company, but has subsequently joined forces with the Public Schools, Sports and Devonshire clubs, inviting membership from a wide range of occupations. For all the leather armchairs and dining rooms, the East India is rather stuffy and still refuses to admit women as members.

The Groucho Club is an Eighties phenomenon: a four-storey townhouse in Soho was turned into a private members' club as an antidote to all this swagger and old school tie. Taking its inspiration and its name from Groucho Marx's statement that he would never join a club that would have him as a member, it offers 19 small but perfectly located rooms in addition to the bar, brasserie and restaurant. Prices start at £45 for the one tiny single room to £145 for one of the two large double rooms. The waiting list has dropped from six years to two. Membership, should Salman Rushdie or another illustrious member propose you, costs £365 a year on top of the £250 joining fee.

The Chelsea Arts Club in Chelsea (020-7376 3311) caters for a similarly creative crowd. It was established in 1891 by Whistler. Members such as Rowan Atkinson and PD James enjoy the dining room, billiard room and garden facilities as well as the cheapest club bedrooms in London. A night in one of the 13 rooms costs from £34 for a single and just five pounds more for a double at £39. Membership prices are the same as the Groucho at £365 a year.

Club Quarters on Gracechurch Street (020-7666 1620) near Leadenhall Market. Part of a US-owned chain of private members' clubs; the other London location is near St Paul's. Membership is on offer to corporate travellers at various rates which include membership to the other clubs in the chain, but because prices and membership restrictions vary from company to company, they are not available to the general public.

Adam St (020-7379 8000) is a new club that was opened just off the Strand last October on the site of the old actors' club, the Green Room. It combines the history, leather armchairs and impeccable service of the gentleman's club with a modern twist. It counts Will Self among its numbers. One catch: there is no accommodation, but members qualify for slightly discounted rates at the Savoy and the Adelphi.

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