It's HERE at last! One of the consequences of writing about the history of private members' clubs is my abiding interest in the international trends of such places.
London is synonymous with clubs - deservedly so. At least 400 clubs have been based there, more than any other world city. But clubs have been a major international export of various European empires the world over - it wasn't just the British, but also the Spanish and Portuguese Empires that were keen exporters of clubs. And as Peter Clark showed in his landmark British Clubs and Societies, 1580-1800: The Origins of an Associational World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), the early clubs were very much an Anglo-American form of socialisation; and indeed, for all the many column inches about White's in London being "the oldest club in the world", that distinction actually belongs to the South River Club in Maryland, which was recognisably operating as a club by 1690, whereas White's was merely a chocolate shop with a gambling den around the back for its first 80 years or so - it was not until the 1770s that White's recognisably became a club, very much in parallel with its great rivals, Boodle's and Brooks's. Clubs are therefore much more global in their scope than the British institutions that are often envisaged.
And the post-colonial dimension of the colonial clubs is a fascinating area, deserving of further study. Benjamin B. Cohen's outstanding In the Club: Associational Life in South Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) includes a fascinating final chapter on the post-colonial legacy of clubs in India, and it is well worth comparing and contrasting the differing experiences of former colonial clubs the world over. See, for instance, how Ian Smith of Rhodesia's notorious white minority regime is still feted in some Zimbabwean clubs today, and compare that to how rapidly India's emerging middle class of the 1940s and 1950s appropriated the European clubs after Indian independence in 1947. While there are some country-specific surveys of clubs, like Purshottam Bhageria and Pavan Malhotra's sumptuously-produced Elite Clubs of India (New Delhi: Bhageria Foundation, 2005), a wider international study of clubs and empires has yet to be produced (and indeed, is down on my shortlist of future possible projects).
So as a scoping exercise, I have been compiling copious notes on the surviving clubs that exist around the world today, and have produced a "Global Clubs Directory" at http://www.sethalexanderthevoz.com/global-clubs-directory/. This is an interactive resource, constantly being updated, with hyperlinks provided wherever possible.
Although Country Clubs and City Clubs exist the world over, it's noticeable how global cities tend to also host concentrations of clubs. London remains the undisputed Clubland capital - today it has 109 clubs, over 30 of them set up in the last decade. New York comes second on the list, with some 42 active clubs up and running today. Beyond that, the remaining cities with clubs in double digits all stand testament to the popularity of clubs in the United States, and the British Empire - particularly in the former British India, with cities in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all well-represented (and Bangladesh still containing its colonial-era clubs as well):
- 109 - London, U.K.
- 42 - New York, U.S.A.
- 23 - Mumbai, India.
- 21 - Kolkata, India.
- 19 - New Delhi, India.
- 15 - Karachi, Pakistan; Singapore.
- 14 - Boston, U.S.A.
- 13 - Buenos Aires, Argentina; New Orleans, U.S.A; Toronto, Canada.
- 12 - Los Angeles, U.S.A.
- 11 - Bangalore, India; Hong Kong, P.R. China.
- 10 - Chennai, India; Chicago, U.S.A.; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; Paris, France; San Francisco, U.S.A.; Washington D.C., U.S.A.
The list tells us a great deal about the evolving shape of clubs in the 21st century. After decades of decline, there has been a huge growth in the number of "new" clubs the world over - usually run for profit by a landlord (or even a global conglomerate), rather than as a mutual run by its members. And a small number of international chains have dominated this: Texas-based ClubCorp, which mainly (though not exclusively) operates in the United States; Signature Clubs International, which operates mainly (though again, not exclusively) across Africa; the Birley Group, which runs no fewer than five clubs across London; and more controversially, the Trump Organization, for which the Mar-a-Lago Club (set up by Donald Trump, partly as a tax avoidance measure on his Palm Beach mansion) is their flagship club.
It also says something about the decline of single-sex clubs. Men-only clubs were once by far the most common type of club, and The Guardian recently called for a public register of these clubs. Yet my database shows that their predominance is severely waning, and of the thousands of clubs listed, just 64 worldwide are men-only. Yet they still hugely outnumber the tiny handful of women-only clubs worldwide - the database lists just 8, in Australia, Britain and Canada. And men-only clubs still dominate in some countries, particularly Italy: every single one of Italy's 18 clubs remain men-only.
By its very nature, the list is evolving and incomplete. It's also somewhat arbitrary in some of its choices. When is a club a club? As with my book Club Government, I've defined it as being tied to a shared space, which means excluding the many societies which simply have "Club" in their name. As a general rule of thumb, specialist sports clubs like golf clubs and football clubs haven't been included - unless they include a clubhouse which is notable enough in its own right to rival the many city clubs and country clubs worldwide. But even then, with all the work that has gone into this, readers must recognise that any listing remains slightly arbitrary. If you would like to make any proposed corrections, want to draw attention to any omissions, or spot any dead links, etc, you can get in touch with me through the "Contact" page.