Tempus ventures behind the doors of London's most discreet private members' club
The Walbrook club operates as the soul of discretion for it high net worth – and high flying – members
Nestled between towering buildings of glass, steel and chrome just a stone’s throw from the Bank of England is a single Queen Anne-style townhouse. This is the home of The Walbrook Club, an exclusive and discreet family-owned private members’ club, offering fine dining, unparalleled networking and absolute privacy to its high-flying clientele.
“It’s an anachronism, this little townhouse,” explains The Walbrook’s managing director Philip Palumbo. “I think members are proud of it. It stands out despite being the smallest building around, perhaps the smallest members’ club in London.”
The house was built in 1953 by Palumbo’s grandfather, property developer Rudolph Palumbo, who was famed for redeveloping London’s bombsites after the second world war. “That’s the first deception; the building is not particularly old, but it’s in a very traditional part of town,” says Palumbo. “And then you come in and you’re surrounded by pop art.”
The club’s four rooms – a bar, dining room, boardroom and private meeting or dining room – are abundant with artworks, combining the inimitable style of Annabel’s and Mark’s Club founder Mark Birley and Philip’s father, Lord Peter Palumbo who, as well as inheriting Rudolph’s property development firm, was chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1989 to 1994.
“After my grandfather’s death, the family operations started to wind down a bit and the house became too big a space for my father,” Palumbo continues. “One day – over a very boisterous lunch at The Connaught, London in 1997 – my father and Mark Birley decided to turn it into the Walbrook Club. There was no contract. They shook hands and three years later this place opened.
“It’s a sort of irresistible blend of the two of them. My father’s taste in art is evident in every room, while Birley had an overwhelming influence and bearing on everything from the shape of the rooms to the colour damask on the walls – you can see he spent the most amount of time in the bar, with its dramatic oyster bar – and I’m so pleased that they managed to do this, because there’s nothing quite like it.”
The Walbrook Club remains Birley’s only venture outside of Mayfair, yet retains his signature quirky mix of decadent décor, rich fabrics and colours, and stand out pieces of art – including an enormous swan and a model ship, illuminated by fairy lights, dominating the wall of the bar. In the dining room, family portraits of Rudolph and Peter adorn the walls while a hat belonging to Sir Winston Churchill is displayed in a glass case. Next door, the Green Room is a cosier dining or meeting room featuring a pretty Victorian table and a rare painting of the Cini Foundation, Venice, by cityscape artist Ben Johnson. >>
frescoes of dog breeds. A complete collection of city-scape prints lines the stairs down to the private Oak Room, while photographs Antarctic vistas paint the hallway in an eerie blue.
This private boardroom is also served by a hidden entrance to the club, allowing dignitaries and businesspersons to enjoy complete discretion in the heart of the City (“Privacy is of utmost importance to us,” Palumbo insists. “It’s our lifeblood.”). If still in any doubt of its impressive clout, the club is located in next door to Rothschild’s UK HQ and opposite the Bloomberg European headquarters, and regularly attracts monthly speakers including sitting heads of
state, captains of industry, authors, activists and more. “The programme of events here is outrageous,” says Palumbo. “I think that’s one of our big draws for members. They’re great networking opportunities, and the dining room is a fairly modest side, so you’re not lost in a crowd. Most importantly, all our talks are under strict Chatham House Rule – a code of silence. We had a politician a few years ago who said, ‘You heard it here first, I’m running to be Prime Minister’. Then he went to the BBC later that evening.
“One of my favourite speakers was a former South African president, who spoke about his experiences while in office. He provided a fascinating perspective on an iconic moment of recent history. It was deeply insightful. In October we have over dinner the Argentinian Ambassador exploring Anglo-Argentine relations - alongside Argentinian culture, food and wine - during what will be a highly memorable occasion
aiming to build greater understanding.”
The club’s fine dining is another string to its bow; The Walbrook Club’s original manager – Palumbo’s mother, Hayat – partners with Albert Roux and his Gavroche restaurant to set up a Michelin-quality kitchen that also took influence from her native Lebanon.
“When we opened, the idea was to introduce elegant rooms and good food to the city. Albert Roux set up the kitchen, and for some 12 years ran it with Gavroche staff. We still use the infrastructure he put in, such as the suppliers and the way we run the kitchen, and he’s still involved informally. My mother’s Mediterranean palate definitely plays itself out in our menus.”
Her culinary insight wasn’t the only area where Palumbo has benefited from his predecessor’s 18 years of wisdom. “She kept the place going from strength to strength, through two recessions and the development of Bloomberg’s 1.1 million sq ft headquarters,” he says. “I learnt the benefits of compromise and collaboration. She taught me to consult with our members, to have vision and show leadership – that’s why we’ve introduced our under-35s membership. and expanded our events and partnerships with members’ clubs around the world. We now have annual Fine Wine Dinners as well as a competitive shooting syndicate.”
And that leadership is in clear evidence as Palumbo enters his second year at the helm of a city club that provides celebration, connection, commiseration and, most importantly, keeps safe within the Chatham House Rule.