A gentlemen's club is a members-only private club of a type originally set up by and for English upper class men in the eighteenth century, and popularised by English upper-middle class men and women in the late nineteenth century. Today, some are more open about the gender and social status
of members. Many countries outside the United Kingdom have prominent gentlemen's clubs.
In the United States the term gentlemen's
club is frequently used as a euphemism for strip clubs, a trend also increasingly common in the United Kingdom, with chains such as Stringfellows and Spearmint Rhino using the term in this way.
original clubs were established in the West End of London. Even today, the area of St. James's is still sometimes referred to as 'clubland'. Clubs took over the role occupied by coffee houses in 18th century London to some degree, and reached the height of their influence in the late 19th century.
The first clubs, such as White's and Boodle's, were highly aristocratic in flavour, and provided a private environment in which to carry out gambling, which was still illegal outside of members-only establishments.
The 19th century
brought an explosion in the popularity of clubs, particularly around the decade of the 1880s. At their height, London had
over 400 such establishments. This expansion can be explained in part by the large extensions of the franchise in the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1885. Each time, hundreds of thousands more men were qualified to vote, and it was common for them to feel that
they had been elevated to the status of a gentleman - thus they sought out a club. The existing clubs, with strict limits
on membership numbers and long waiting lists, were generally wary of such newly-enfranchised potential members, and so these
people set about forming their own clubs. Each of the three great Reform Acts corresponded with a further expansion of clubs,
as did a further extension of the franchise in 1918.
It should also be noted that many of these new, more 'inclusive' clubs
proved just as reluctant as their forbears to admit new members when the franchise was further extended.
An increasing number of clubs were characterised by their members' interest in politics, literature, sport, art, automobiles, travel, particular countries, or some other pursuit. In other cases, the connection between the members was membership
of the same branch of the armed forces, or a background at the same school or university. Thus the growth of clubs provides
a strong indicator as to what was considered a respectable part of the 'Establishment' at the time.
By the late 19th century, any man with a credible claim to the status of "gentleman" was eventually able to find a club willing to admit him, unless his character was very objectionable
in some way or he was "unclubbable" (incidentally, a word first used by Samuel Johnson). This came to include professionals who had to earn their income, such as doctors and lawyers.
gentlemen had only one club, which closely corresponded with the trade or social / political identity he felt most defined
him, but a few people belonged to several; members of the aristocracy and politicians were particularly likely to have several
clubs. The record number of memberships is believed to have been with Earl Mountbatten, who had nineteen in the 1960s.
Public entertainments, such as musical performances
and the like, were not a feature of this sort of club. The clubs were, in effect, "second homes" in the centre of
London where men could relax, mix with their friends, play parlour games, get a meal, and in some clubs could stay overnight. They allowed upper- and upper-middle-class men with modest
incomes to spend their time in grand surroundings; the richer clubs were built by the same architects as the finest country houses of the time, and had the same types of interiors. They also were a convenient retreat for men who wished to
get away from their female relations. Many men spent much of their lives in their club, and it was a common feature for young
newly-graduated men who had moved to London for the first time to live at their club for two or three years before they could
afford to rent a house or flat.
Women also set about establishing their own clubs in the late
nineteenth century, such as the Ladies' Institute, and the Ladies' Athenaeum. They proved quite popular at the time, but only one, The University Women's Club, has survived to this day as a single-sex establishment.
Until the 1950s, clubs
were also heavily regulated in the rooms open to non-members. Most clubs contained just one room in which members could dine
and entertain non-members; it was often assumed that one's entire social circle should be within the same club.
The class requirements relaxed gradually throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition from the 1970s onwards
some single-sex clubs opened to both sexes as guests and as members, partly to help keep up membership levels.
Although traditional gentlemen's
clubs are no longer as popular or influential as they originally were, many have seen a significant resurgence in popularity
and status in recent years. Some top clubs still maintain distinctions which are often undefined and rarely explained to those
who do not satisfy their membership requirements. After reaching the top of a long waiting list, there is a real possibility
of being blackballed; the proposer of such a person is expected to resign, as he failed to withdraw his undesirable candidate.
Today gentlemen's clubs exist throughout the world, predominantly in Commonwealth countries and the United States. Many clubs offer reciprocal hospitality to other clubs' members when travelling abroad.
In Britain and particularly London, there is a continuum between the original gentlemen's clubs and the more
modern but otherwise similar private members' clubs such the Groucho Club, Soho House and Home House. All offer similar facilities such as food, drink, comfortable surroundings, venue hire and in many cases
accommodation. However in the last few years the advent of mobile working (using phone and email) has placed pressures on
the traditional London clubs which frown on and often ban the use of mobiles and discourage laptops. A new breed of business-oriented
private members clubs, exemplified by One Alfred Place and Eight in London or the Gild in Barcelona, combines the style, food and drink of a contemporary private members'
club with the business facilities of an office.
There are perhaps some 25 traditional London gentlemen's clubs of particular note, from the Athenaeum to White's, included in the list of London's gentlemen's clubs. Many other estimable clubs (such as the yacht clubs) have a specific character which places them outside the mainstream, or may have sacrificed their individuality
for the commercial interest of attracting enough members regardless of their common interests. (See article at club for a further discussion of these distinctions.) The oldest gentlemans club in London is White's which
was founded in 1693.
Discussion of trade or business is usually not allowed in London gentlemen's clubs
(other clubs are specifically designed for business and allow mobiles and laptops), but increasingly people in politics and
business hire club premises in the UK and around the world for debates and conferences on current affairs. For example, the
Commonwealth Club in London counts former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard as influential people who have spoken there. The use of such establishments for public discussion and debate,
however, is in its infancy, as many of the larger and more established clubs strictly enforce their rules on such matters.
Similar clubs exist in some major cities outside of London, notably the Liverpool Athenaeum, The Clifton Club, Edinburgh's New Club and The St James's Club in Manchester. Liverpool's Athenaeum Club, Church Alley, was founded in 1797 by art collector and social reformer William
Roscoe and friends. Its famous library contains many rare and fascinating books. Proprietors (members) and guests also relax
in the newsroom and restaurant. There are many interest groups which meet in the club. The Clifton Club in Bristol was founded in 1818 and occupies an imposing building in one of the most exclusive streets in the city. It
remains one of the most prestigious and socially exclusive clubs outside of London. Guernsey in the Channel Islands has a gentleman's club outside the United Kingdom proper, The United Club, founded in 1870.
India, has several gentlemen's clubs in most of the major cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Shimla, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore etc. Like in the UK, these were started by officers of the British Raj and also by Indian aristocracy and
intellectuals. While most of these clubs, including the Gymkhana, the India International Centre and the country clubs now have to legally accept members of either sex, there are some clubs that maintain
an exclusive male only membership policy. Most clubs are located in expensive and old down town areas of old cities and have
waiting lists of 20 to 30 years and more for membership. Gaining membership to one of these clubs is considered a sign of
"having arrived" by the Indian elite since it shows wealth, political and societal connections and often a familial
pedigree. Most of the gentlemen's clubs in India are registered charities or not-for-profit ventures, however, since the
1990s various for profit clubs have been started by real estate developers and corporations with limited social success.
Most major cities in the United States have at least one traditional gentlemen's club. Gentlemen's clubs are more prevalent, however, in
older cities such as New Orleans and around the East Coast in New York City (which has the largest number of prominent clubs), Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C.. Some American clubs have reciprocal relationships with the older clubs in London, with each other, and with
other clubs around the world. The oldest existing American clubs date to the 18th century; the State in Schuylkill in Philadelphia,
founded in 1732, is arguably the oldest club in North America, the Old Colony Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts founded in 1769, is also one of oldest gentlemen's club in North
America. The Yale Club of New York City, comprising a clubhouse of 22 stories and a worldwide membership of over 11,000, is the largest gentlemen's
club in the world.
several gentlemen's clubs including the Australian Club (Sydney & Melbourne), the Melbourne Club, the Adelaide Club, the Union, University & Schools Club (Sydney), the WA Club, the Weld Club (Perth), the Athenaeum Club (Melbourne; named after its counterpart in London), the Savage Club (Melbourne), the Newcastle Club (Newcastle), the Brisbane Polo Club (housed in the heritage listed Naldham House in the centre of the central business district), the Royal Automobile Club of Australia (Sydney) and the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (Melbourne). Only the Newcastle Club, Brisbane Polo Club and the Kelvin Club in Melbourne allow women to enjoy
South Africa is home to the Rand Club in downtown Johannesburg, The Cape Town Club  the Owl Club in Cape Town and the Durban Club, founded in 1852 and has been running continuously since inception. 
Quirks of membership
Some clubs have
highly specific membership requirements. For example, the Caledonian Club in London requires "being of direct Scottish descent, that is to say, tracing descent from a Scottish
father or mother, grandfather or grandmother" or "having, in the opinion of the Committee, the closest association
with Scotland." The Travellers Club, from its foundation in 1819, has excluded from membership anyone who has not met a very specific travelling
requirement. Rule 6 of the club's constitution states that "no person be considered eligible to the Travellers'
Club, who shall not have travelled out of the British islands to a distance of at least 500 miles from London in a direct
line". The Yale Club is typical of university clubs: is open to all who have a connection with its university, in this case Yale University. The Reform Club requires its potential members to attest that they would have supported the 1832 Reform Act, whilst certain members of the East India Club must have attended one of its affiliated public schools.