They don’t make them like they used to, they say. This maxim chimes with the radical obsession with modernising everything, which even a casual glance at older cars, clothes and magazines shows is a vain pursuit. Supposedly technology is a conduit to making our lives simpler, but let me put it to you this way: how many of you get away from work on leaving the office? Your phone is a portable computer, which means you are contactable from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep. Do you ever get time to yourself? In high-intensity lives, is there a place any more for privacy, independent thought or self-improvement?
How about the gym? Perhaps it is the perfect place for this sort of thing. Your self-discipline will determine the results, and it is a great way to detach yourself from the drudgery of working/family life. What if I were to tell you that the gym had a distinctly social and intellectual capacity at its inception? The Greeks would use gymnasia as places to escape to, usually on the outskirts of a city, to engage not only in exercise but philosophical conversation. Even today in European nations, a gymnasium is a type of school, the name not solely associated with the concupiscent crucible of clanking steel, thudding treadmills, sweat-soaked back rests, unreturned free-weights, hogged benches and ever-more-bizarre-looking pieces of apparatus that are meant to aid the unceasing pursuit of the perfect ‘bod’ at your local Fitness First.
What if there were remnants of this ancient tradition of a Corinthian gym? A place where both exercise and interesting conversation, comfort, privacy and detachment can be achieved? Would you feel inclined towards it? Perhaps you find the protein-shaked modernity of KX or Equinox to be a little soulless, a bit Instagrammy? To many, the idea of a proper gentlemen’s gymnasium, where the comfort and service (not to mention clientele) of the best members’ clubs are as important as the ability to keep fit, is anathema. Then again, these people haven’t heard of the Bath & Racquets Club, an arm of the Birley empire and certainly the last of its kind.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was London that had the lion’s share of this kind of establishment, with New York playing second fiddle. The Bath & Racquets Club is a lasting reminder that taste and elegance are available to those sophisticated enough to employ them. The club itself is snuck into Brooks Mews, the alley running behind Claridge’s in Mayfair. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance is intentional, but as soon as you get in, you appreciate how your discretion is rewarded with a society of modern-day Corinthian men. It is not a surprise that the club is part of the Birley group — all the tasteful touches that Mark Birley has left the world are very much in place, without a whiff of compromise. The excellence and sophistication here is so woefully lacking in many other supposedly luxurious institutions.