White’s was a place where a noble or wealthy gentleman (once members, of course) could dine, gamble, drink, and gather with similarly well-heeled friends.
© Copyright PAUL FARMER and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
In 1693, an Italian named Francesco Bianco (anglicized to Francis White) opened an establishment to sell hot chocolate, which was nothing like today’s Swiss Miss. The beverage was thick, bitter, exotic, expensive, and went well with dissident discussion. Charles II didn’t care for chocolate houses, and many converted into fashionable gentlemen’s clubs like White’s, Brooks’s, and Boodles’.
Entry wasn't easy to receive, mind you. It was exclusive and proud of it.
In 1778, White’s moved to its current location on Nos. 37-38 St. James’s Street. Today, once can still view the ground floor bow window which became a seat of honor. That arbiter of style and elegance, Beau Brummell, took the spot until he left in shame for the Continent in 1816, and his seat was quickly taken by Lord Alvanley, friend of the Prince Regent.
|Ah, Beau Brummell. Get a load of that snazzy neck cloth. Public Domain.|
Betting was as liberal as the consumption of Madeira. Wealthy, bored gentlemen bet on anything and everything, from whom would marry who to which horse could run fastest. The Napoleonic Wars offered innumerable fodder for gamblers, but many bets were less serious in nature: Lord Alvanley bet £3,000 which of two raindrops would slide down the bottom of the pane of the box window.
White’s is still in business as a gentleman’s club today. Current members include Prince Charles, David Cameron MP, and oddly, Henry Winkler (the Fonz).
I wonder who gets to sit in the bow window now?