At the end of last year, Kate Percival launched Grace Belgravia , a women-only members club in central London. There is already The Sorority in Holborn, with the same ground rules men only as guests, on certain nights, and only if they behave. About 20 years ago, so-called "gentlemen's clubs" indicating that they excluded women only as part of a larger agenda of excluding anyone they didn't go to school with looked like the dinosaurs of clubbing — large, maladroit and maladapted, facing hostility all around, and not long for this world.
Through a series of manoeuvres that mainly centred on improving the food, they have pulled through. But along with that, the clubs themselves have upgraded the ways they deal with all sorts of things, whether that's the kitchen or the bar or the administration. So, let's say women are launching members' spaces of their own in the spirit of haven't-beaten-them-may-as-well-join-them: Emulating gentlemen's clubs doesn't seem remotely the point, however.
A spokesperson for Grace Belgravia explained: What we are building is totally different — it's a sorority for women. A lot of it, dispiritingly, is about healthy eating. The idea seems much more classless when women do it, and people have been toying with it for some years. He says, in gleeful contradiction of what everybody else says, "It was more a no-men club, rather than female-only. I've had a nice time in bars where there's a sense that anything might happen.
But it would be so subtle you wouldn't even necessarily notice. It should have been City-fringe, Clerkenwell, places full of professional women who are out there, doing stuff.
There must be places like this in New York or LA. Even KC Gates, who I think of more as embodying a fourth grace awesomeness , says: There's a lot of women in London nowadays who are looking for a place to eat when they've been to the gym, or have something in their stomach when they drink.
I don't really accept this principle. But don't let me and my mansize appetite get in the way of all this appealing zest for business. You're setting up a place where men know their wives aren't going to be hit on? A place where women can come, they can eat good food, they can network … I've worked security as a doorman. I've worked different clubs, lesbian and straight, and got a sense of what women want.
The absence of sex, even in bursts so short that you can measure them out in coffee spoons, creates a breathing space in which other things — fellowship, calm, creativity, portions that are too small — can flourish. With women, conversely, there always seems to be this ambiguity about what the purpose is of excluding men. Are they going to start primal screaming or talking about healing? Everybody associated with these new ventures uses the word "professional" to distinguish the type of women they're talking about, and thereby the type of activity, even though there is nothing to stop a bunch of lawyers from wanting to see men in pants do synchronised dancing; even when they're talking about stay-at-home mothers, who are the opposite of professionals that's not a value judgment, by the way — I'm not ruling out their having been professionals or being professionals in the future.
Noise is just part of it, but it's perhaps the part that the rest of the world notices the most. I don't think single-sex socialising is the shape of things to come; but I think it's a shape we'll be getting more used to.