The House of Cards: Inside Mayfair’s fabled Clermont Club

Wild beasts, squandered fortunes, international playboys, military coups — as a modern version of the storied Clermont Club opens down on Berkeley Square, we revisit the ghosts of its gamblers past

“It was a useless life” says Taki Theodoracopulous, the Greek shipping heir and last of the playboys. “But a very, very pleasant one.” For the Clermont Club — perhaps the grandest, oofiest gambling den in the history of London — this is high praise indeed. The uselessness is built in, of course. A high-end casino exists solely to move money from rich, tipsy people with inheritances to richer, more sober people with CCTV cameras and panic rooms and sympathetic smiles. It is a place of distraction and oblivion, where the game is all, and the money is simply a side-effect, a symptom, a McGuffin. There is no wider societal good; no great point or modern-day ‘purpose’. No economic trickle-down, particularly — just the constant dribble of someone else’s Krug. Useful? Who wants useful? That’s what members of the public are for. We’re just here to have a lovely time. Uselessness is the last great indulgence: lower the blinds, dear boy, the sun’s coming up.

As for pleasantness — in the case of the Clermont, pleasant is an understatement. This is pampering, engulfing, comforting, swaddling. It is silk sheets and warm milk: some bosomy, lovely nanny of the soul. Completed in 1740, 44 Berkeley Square was the final palladian townhouse ever designed by William Kent, the great Mayfair architect. A little over two centuries later, it was bought by John “Aspers” Aspinall to house a planned gambling establishment and monument to some forgotten England. (The laws on gambling in the UK had just changed, in part due to the wranglings of Aspinall himself: charged with gaming offences in the 1950s, he wriggled off the hook so successfully that the wider legislation was altered, meaning the Clermont and its ilk could bat happily on.) Aspers threw open doors in 1962 — and the first thing to strike you was the decor. Arranged around a central, sweeping double staircase, the interiors of the Clermont Club were high pomp and utter luxury: an inviting English country house, elevated by Louis XIV furniture and filigreed carpets. Osborne & Little took care of the design, of course, curving gold-leafed wallpaper around Romanesque pillars and busts from antiquity. But the finest exhibits were always the members themselves: a self-selecting cast of constant fixtures and florid old boys; captains of industry and creaking aristos; young bucks and friendly rakes.

The Clermont Club exterior, 44 Berkeley Square, 1970s

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