Code changes: Modern members clubs

5 HERTFORD ST

Monkey 47: a hit at 5 Hertford Street

Monkey 47: a hit at 5 Hertford Street

Forget a branded Champagne bar, you won’t even find a branded glass inside one of London’s newest, yet already most talked about, private members’ clubs. Notoriously discreet – even members are banned from taking photographs inside – Robin Birley’s Mayfair venue opened in June 2013. In a route similar to that taken by many of its members, the club’s wine buyer Tim Parkinson came across from former Birley stronghold Annabel’s, which was bought by Caprice Holdings in 2007. This knowledge of his clientele provided a handy template for compiling the drinks list, although lack of cellar space called for a degree of creativity. “We had deliveries coming in every day when we first opened and the cellar was an air- conditioned store room,” he recalls.

While the club’s wine cellar is now a more formalised affair, its size continues to impose limitations on the list – and not only because magnums are so popular here, especially in the downstairs club Loulou’s. “We have a massive selection and we sell a lot of them,” remarks Parkinson. Fortunately, 5 Hertford Street members are fairly focused in their taste, with Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne dominating the 500 bins on offer in the club and 120 bins in the ground-floor restaurant. “Even though the ground-floor restaurant has more New World wines, it doesn’t shift a lot,” admits Parkinson. Neither is there much movement for the £27 entry-level offering on the list – the club’s own-label house wine collection is deliberately positioned a notch up the price spectrum in the form of a £38 red Bordeaux, as well as a white and red Burgundy. Meanwhile, on the Champagne front, Pol Roger sets the tone as the house pour. Admitting that “many of our members have bigger cellars than we do,” Parkinson finds little demand for Bordeaux’s petits châteaux, remarking: “it’s more the familiar names that they drink at home and we try to make sure, especially on the Bordeaux front, that there are the mature vintages they expect to see.”

Despite the conservative wine tastes of the 5 Hertford Street clientele, Australian- born Parkinson likes to shake up the list with a few left-field options. “We play around at the mid-level prices with small producers who are really interesting,” he says. While the exclusively Italian sommelier team might try to guide the more trusting members towards “the least funky” of Frank Cornelissen’s Sicilian wines, Parkinson likes to show a different side to his own homeland from its big- brand image. “It’s the stuff I grew up with: these little producers who are really amazing but there’s not much of it, so if a member likes it, it vanishes off the list,” he explains.

Other special touches include a “specials” page, which features a vertical selection of vintages from a single domaine. Meanwhile, Loulou’s offers a “Best of the World” page, usually of single bottles from rare vintages of the biggest names in the Old World. These may be expensive, but it’s certainly not about milking the high spenders. “Our members are quite savvy, they know what DRC is worth, so if they see it here at a brokers’ list price then they appreciate it,” comments Parkinson.

Brand tie-ins may be very firmly out, but the spirits list is highly reactive to members’ preferences, even the more obscure ones. “Monkey 47 got a real following suddenly but there was no endorsement behind it,” remarks Parkinson of the craze for this cranberry- influenced German gin. Quirks such as this aside, the spirits tone in the main club is set by the upstairs martini and whisky bars, with the latter proving particularly complementary to the club’s cigar shop. Here again, members can prove unpredictable in their taste. “Japanese whisky is really popular,” reveals Parkinson. “We can’t get out hands on enough Hibiki 30 Year Old.” Not bad for a blend with a £900 price tag.

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