Legendary London nightclub Annabel’s reopened this month in a vastly expanded space with a new all-day, all-night format and is targeting a younger membership — although it hasn’t forgotten about the fun-loving old guard.
The original basement club at number 44 Berkeley Square was founded in 1963 by Mark Birley and was one of London’s first members-only nightclubs, catering to a mix of aristos and royalty, rich and famous, all with a penchant for late-night hijinks. The hedonistic club achieved near-mythical status with lots of kissing — and then some — in the dark, cushioned alcoves, cheesy disco music on the dance floor and a stream of celebrities and other notables regularly picking their way down the steep stairs, most recently for Charles Finch’s annual pre-BAFTA parties, among other soirees.
It’s the only nightclub Queen Elizabeth has ever visited — she arrived in 2003 and ordered a gin martini, no lemon. Many years earlier, in 1986, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson turned up dressed as policewomen in an attempt to infiltrate Prince Andrew’s stag party. Patrick Cox and Eric Clapton all fell short of its strict dress code and were turned away from the door.
It is also the place where Topshop boss Sir Philip Green paid 60,000 pounds in a charity auction for a 60-second kiss with Kate Moss, which he then gave to Jemima Goldsmith. The two ladies proceeded to lock lips then and there. Lady Gaga has performed there live while Boy George has dominated the DJ decks.
So when news broke in early 2015 that Annabel’s — now owned by Green’s friend Richard Caring — would be moving to new premises, the more traditional clubbers panicked. But when No. 46 Berkeley Square became available, Caring and his partners snapped it up in a 90 million pound deal with the aim of bringing Annabel’s into the 21st century.
Interior designer Martin Brudnizki has masterminded the club’s opulent new look, embracing a garden theme throughout with hand-painted de Gournay wallpapers, crystal chandeliers and ornate moldings of fruits and flowers. One private dining room has walls covered in delicate silver leafing, while the ground-floor bar is made of back-lit pink onyx, as are the vanities in the ladies’ bathroom on the top floor. They also feature golden swan faucets and literally thousands of silk flowers on the ceiling. There’s a hydraulic dance floor and a sound system loud enough to cause hair loss, a full-time dog-walker on hand and someone employed to carve ice for cocktails.
Caring asked Beirut-born, London-based designer Racil Chalhoub to create the uniforms for the female staff — there are lots of tuxedo references, a Racil staple — and celebrity makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury to advise on the design of the indulgently girly powder rooms and create makeup looks for the female staff. Sources say she’s also involved in the proposed spa that will be housed in the mews house behind the club. Perfumer Azzi Glasser has created a bespoke scent for the club while contemporary art director Hikari Yokoyama is behind the artwork — which includes a Picasso — on the silk walls.
Mario Testino, who had been consulting on the overall look of the club, was released from the project after allegations of his sexual harassment of male models emerged in January.
The new club is unabashedly nouveau riche in spirit but for Annabel’s stalwarts, there are still some reminders of the rumpled and posh old days. The entry to the club is still via a striped awning, the carpets throughout remain as loud as ever, while many of the artworks that graced the walls of the old club have been re-hung at number 46, including the Modiano cigarette poster. The fashion parties have also resumed their pace, with British Vogue hosting a BAFTA after-party a month before the club officially reopened.
The new opening hours are 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily, and there is a dedicated space where members can use phones and laptops to conduct business — until 7 p.m.; the club still enforces the no-business rule that. The club’s famously strict dress code has also been relaxed: Jackets, once required, are now encouraged but can be removed on the dance floor.
There’s also a ban on social media that’s sure to flummox more than a few #influencers, especially considering the “more is more” decor that will be pure Instagram bait to the new generation of members.
“Anyone can apply for membership; we don’t have a set criteria but I suppose we’re looking for people who are interesting, inspirational and from all walks of life — from the tech industry, to fashion, to property, to hedge funds, young and old — everything,” Astrid Harbord, Annabel’s membership manager, told WWD.
But joining the membership ranks of arguably one of the world’s most legendary clubs is no cut-and-dried affair. New members may be proposed by an existing one, then must be approved by the membership committee and then stump up the joining fee of about $1,800 and an annual subscription of $3,900 for those older than 35.
Members under 25 will pay a reduced joining fee of $350 and an annual subscription of $1,050, while under-35 pay $700 and $2,100, respectively, discounted rates believed to be structured to attract a Millennial audience and lower the age profile of the membership for which, said Harbord, “there’s a very long waiting list.”
Of the estimated 7,000 members of the previous Annabel’s, the 78 founding ones who are still alive are said to have been sent a key inviting them to join the new club at their original joining fee, which amounts to about 5.25 pounds for their annual membership — London’s bargain of the century.