Here’s a conundrum for you. It’s the year 2021. July. The weekend. Your estranged great uncle Winston is over for a few days from America. You’ve been assigned to squire him about town as best you can. Big hat. Red face. Terrifying mustache. He has the letters “III” after his surname and several thousand square miles of leaky Texas oilfield in his back pocket, and it would be handy, for reasons we don’t need to go into here, to find yourself down for a couple of quid in his Last Will and Testament, whenever that may come about. (Sooner rather than later, probably, at the rate the big lad goes through the porterhouse.)
Winston’s a huge tennis fan — can’t get enough of the stuff — and demands you take him somewhere pleasant and airy (fond of a good sweat, this one) to watch a feverishly-hyped Wimbledon singles final at very short notice. No chance of getting into Centre Court. No way you’ll take him to a rowdy pub. Your club won’t deign to erect a TV screen in its brocaded walls, and your Fulham flat share is still recovering from a particularly Aperol-Spritzy barbecue the evening before. All avenues appear closed. All hope is lost. What do you do? To whom do you turn? Where will you take the tetchy Texan?
This is the gap in the market that CEO Will Woodhams hopes to fill with the bold and beautiful new Fitzares Club, down on Mayfair’s Davies Street. (Not necessarily the cholesterol-laden wealthy relative bit, you understand — more the bit about watching sport in a lovely setting.) It’s something he’s had on the slate for a while, actually.
“Always, in the back of my mind, was the thought that there was nowhere really nice to watch sport,” he says. Fitzdares — the high-end, handsome bookmaker — had done pop up events at places like Mark’s Club and Glorious Goodwood since 2018, and they’d always gone down pretty well. So Will thought he’d make things permanent — and do so at the precipice of the most cavernous recession in modern history, and at the precise moment that the hospitality industry-at-large has been thrown into a deep crisis. (That’s the Fitzdares way, apparently.) But you get the sense, as the plans progress and the armchairs are unwrapped and the wine is decanted, that this happy gamble might just pay off.
“I want to say it’s as if Claridge’s did Belushi’s Sports Bar, but really it’s more than that,” Will says. “Rosie Blossom from 5 Hertford Street did the interiors, and at the same time we have nine 4k TV screens. It’s elegant, but there’s sport on.” And lots of sport, too. “There’s nothing to stop you watching the first ball of a test match, meeting a client for lunch, friends for supper, and not missing a single ball.” There will be racing on for 12 hours per day in a dedicated racing room, and 150-ish hours of Ashes Cricket per tour.
“Yes, soft furnishing are important,” Will says. “TV screens are important. Having someone to mediate what’s on is important. But the really important thing is the food and drink.” Cellar Master Dom Jacobs, he of Sketch and the Running Horse pub, has helped the club source a top notch house claret (the House Burgundy, by the way, reads: “let Bourgogne be Bourgogne” in serif on the label). The food, meanwhile, is best described, Will says, as “English club classics done by a Frenchman.”
“We’re also doing a play on American sports bar food, but our way.” (Think exquisite free-range chicken ‘dippers’ with panko breadcrumbs.) “We’ll have Beef Wellington every day, and turbot coming in from Devon. It’s comfort food executed to excellent standards.” The club also bought a load of odd, rare magnums at auction, and — thanks to its nifty Coravin system — they’ll open a couple a day and just charge by the glass. It’s all going to be thoroughly reasonably priced too, by central London standards. “The first thing everyone asked is whether the food and drink will be at ‘Annabel’s prices.’” Will says. “And we’re happy to say that no, it certainly won’t.”
Will does have a few tinkling nerves before the official opening in September, mainly around those elements that are harder to conjure up or import — the crowd, the mood, the atmosphere. But there are witty, sweet, very British touches about the place which I suspect will set the tone nicely.
The membership will be selective, but the main criteria is simply that you love sport. Dogs are welcome throughout the club, and they get free food and drinks on greyhound racing days. John Motson, Fitzdares’ ambassador, will be doing live commentary on big match days. There will be speedpoker — a sort of speed-dating singles nights over cards — and 40 original Bill Butcher prints on the walls. There will be a 2003 Rugby World Cup final day where you can watch Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal as if it was live. There will be Polkra candles burning throughout, and a ‘Jockey’ menu of healthier fare for those looking to ‘make the weight.’ All great stuff, in other words: deliciously detailed and just what the doctor ordered.
And yes, it’s wonderfully useful on the odd occasion that you’re attempting to secure the inheritance of a hypothetical oil tycoon uncle. But I suspect it’ll be thoroughly good fun for the rest of the year, too.
The Fitzdares Club, Davies Street, Mayfair. Membership: £500 p/a if you join before 1 September 2020, £600 thereafter. Membership is limited to 2000 members, and you can apply here.
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