“Oh Floppie, I have the best idea. Let’s go to Washington DC for the elections!”
This was five months ago, when I was young and didn’t know any better. Paul – politico, journo, and IGT editorial alumnus – convinced me that Capitol Hill would be where it’s at for the elections (No, Paul, it’s New York, New York is where it’s at, Paul, always). And so, the Friday before the elections, we found ourselves in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, home of the crab. We were staying in the very comfortable home of our host, Bob, where we were making plans for showering journalistic brilliance over the capital.
“The Savile Club has several reciprocals in DC, and I’ve pitched a piece to the Spectator about the attitudes of members of clubland about the election.” Something didn’t quite sit right with Paul’s idea. Was there a “clubland” in Washington DC? Maybe members’ clubs lined Pennsylvania Avenue all the way up to the White House, mimicking Pall Mall and Buckingham Palace. Maybe.
We hatched a plan. We’d check out the Savile’s reciprocal club, the City Tavern, and then rock up to a pub to something we’d been invited to with a bunch of DC politicos, and all along the way we’d merrily harvest quotes like cotton in summertime. Paul skipped upstairs to don full British clubland attire of red trousers, tie and blazer. Bob eyed Paul up and down on his return and said, “Fridays tend to be casual in DC”, which had an underlying tone of “you’re going to get lynched wearing that”. Oblivious to all things decided post 1776, Paul adjusted his pocket-square and marched out of the house.
The sign outside the City Tavern was, erm, now – I’m buggered here whatever I say, so I’m going to use the term that accurately conveys how offensive the sign was – of a Red Indian, so I knew we were in the right place. The talisman was so effective that the City Tavern has no need for a locked front door, or indeed a front desk to vet visitors. If you’re cool with the Red Indian hanging outside, you’ve found your people. We weren’t cool with the sign but with the interest of being published in the Spectator we entered. There wasn’t a soul there. The Spectator was going to be disappointed.
A waitress wandered into the entrance hall and very helpfully pointed us in the direction of the bar as the restaurant was out of action for a wedding the next day. Paul dutifully produced his card of introduction from the Savile, but the waitress could, as they say in America, care less. There was one bloke in the bar. Paul was disappointed to see he wearing a button-down shirt and jeans. “Is that a hoodie?” he whispered, as we slipped into a booth and took in our surroundings.
Georgetown has a beautiful, familiar feel to it. It’s like Hampstead, but flatter and with more going on. The Georgian architecture is robust and homely. Every building is red brick with dark green awnings. The calligraphy for the bars here is all in that Cheers font. Because it was four days after Hallowe’en the Christmas lights were up and twinkling softly against a watercolour autumn sunset.
The bar in the City Tavern is familiar too. Think of your favourite university bar, remove the smell of students, strip the walls back to exposed brick, wood panel the whole thing and add very nice waiting staff and you’ve got it. It’s what you wanted your university bar to be like. It’s not like the Savile, or any other members club I’ve ever been to in London.
Seeing as we were stuck here before drinks with the politicos we decided to see how the City Tavern fare compared with the Savile. Paul ordered crab cakes and I opted for a Thai Chicken Salad. Paul nervously looked down at the cutlery and tried to ascertain which was the “dominant” fork. I looked around the room for anyone who might care and thought twice about using my hands to prove a point.
The Thai chicken salad was perfectly acceptable. It was lightly dressed and the noodles were firm and separate. The chicken was chargrilled. They used fresh coriander. I gave it an A. Paul was pretty pleased with his crab cakes. He said they were mostly crab and not filled with whatever they stuff crab cakes with in the UK. Angel hair (very thin spaghetti is how I explained it), king prawns and some kind of salad embellished the effort. He gave his an A*. Presentation aside, had we been served this at the Savile we wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual.
As we lamented the emptiness of the club and the dwindling prospect of getting something into the Speccie we wondered what it was that made US clubs different. And we settled on this idea: in the US you can go into any bar and talk to whoever the hell you like. And because there isn’t a suffocating class structure in the US as there is back home, there’s no need to pay for membership to an organisation where you’re allowed to talk to like-minded people. They’re just not snobs like we are in the UK.
Just as we finished, Bob found us as we were heading off to the pub thing with the politicos together. Bob’s face fell as Paul told him he’d just had the most delicious crab cakes.
“What did we say, Paul?” Bob asked, stony faced, “About you having to walk back to Chesapeake Beach?”
“I dunno.” Said Paul, nervously.
“You can’t eat crab outside of Maryland.” said Bob, in all seriousness.
Snobbishness of a different kind, then.