A Weekend at The Royal Automobile Club (RAC), One of the World's Foremost Private Members' Clubs
The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Private Members' Club Review also featured on byevapiskadlo.com.
An oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of West End, the Royal Automobile Club is not to be missed. The 108-bedroom clubhouse, which opened its doors in 1911, is the luxury playground for all motor enthusiasts—and more. Expect all the decadent opulence that the club is known for, but with a lower London accent—in other words, it's much more exclusive. The club is London’s grande dame with a central West Side zip code and a glamorous roll call of guests. And it’s in a prime location overlooking St James Park within easy reach of the capital’s glitziest stores on Regent Street.
A brief history
The Royal Automobile Club enjoys a rich history dating back to 1897 when it was founded as the Automobile Club of Great Britain at a time when ‘horseless carriages’ were regarded with skepticism. In 1911 the grand, state-of-the-art Royal Automobile Club was opened in Pall Mall.
The Royal Automobile Club enjoys a rich history dating back to 1897, when it was founded as the Automobile Club of Great Britain at a time when ‘horseless carriages’ were regarded with scepticism. In 1911 the grand, state-of-the-art Royal Automobile Club was opened in Pall Mall.
The very grandeur house was considered desirable to reflect the Club’s burgeoning reputation as the ‘Parliament House of Motordom’ and the most distinguished architects of their time Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis were commissioned to carry out the project. They had already been lauded for the recently constructed Ritz hotels in Paris and London, and the interiors of some of the great ocean-going liners of the day. A terribly good mix of Classical, English and French architectural styles characterises the property. One exuberant description summarises the RAC as a ‘mini-palace of opulence and Edwardian hedonism’.
The amenities are top-notch, with a 2000 square foot fitness center, a peaceful spa and their famous indoor lap pool, featuring in the 2006 film Scoop, where Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman frolicked in its Grecian-style marble swimming pool.
For the central Pall Mall location, the property is surprisingly quiet and keeps the city noise at bay. The RAC is the only club in London with a Turkish bath, members-only post office, Billiards room, squash courts and florist. Enjoy massages, manicures and signature facials at the serene Club Spa, where regulars swear by the services here. I experienced a deep tissue massage by the lovely Lauren—I slept like a log the evening after.
You can tell a lot about a hotel (in this case—a club) from the restaurants; if it’s dusty trail mix and screw-top wine then run for the hills. If, however, the minibar is smartly designed and features bespoke cocktails and artisanal snacks, you know you’re in good hands. From the get-go, the gorgeous (cocktail) bar is set high.
Elsewhere, there is a quintessentially British tea lounge (a nod to the impressive heritage of the building), a buzzy bar and classic British brasserie. Not to mention, London’s most impressive destination Great Gallery Restaurant, helmed by chef du jour Matthew Marshall. Touted as one of the finest dining spaces in London, I’ll be reviewing this in a separate post.
Breakfast is a classic spread of continental and British favourites, served in the Brooklands Room. They also have a la carte options, including pancakes, the full monty, and eggs royale. On Sundays, the same space offers Perrier Jouet Sunday brunch.
A home away from home—if your home happens to come straight out of the pages of Harper’s Bizarre circa 1896 —the club’s 108 rooms are styled with vintage furnishings, lightly patterned fabrics and stunning details. If you go for the King Suite, a great corner room overlooking the Pall Mall gardens, then expect full-on, no-tassels-barred Victoriana enlivened with some faintly surreal touches, such as a taxonomic display of 150-year-old baby shoes. But there is not a bad room in the joint. If you had enough time and money, you would want to try them all.
If you have the privilege of knowing a member and you’ve never been before—then go. If you have been before, go again. The whole RAC experience is a real treat and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
89 Pall Mall, St. James's, London SW1Y 5HS, royalautomobileclub.co.uk