Brian Clivaz, clubman extraordinaire, is the smiling face and the driving force of the Devonshire Club, the latest addition to the growing ranks of London’s private members’ clubs.
Brian’s innate charm and gregariousness are evident as he circulates: greeting, schmoozing and amusing members just as his gimlet eye is constantly alert for detail, a misplaced cushion or empty glass here, a slight slip by a member of staff there. In the world of clubs, attention to detail is all, and no one is more aware of this than Brian. It’s why he’s known affectionately as The Queen of Clubs.
The Devonshire Club occupies a reconstructed Georgian warehouse in the City’s Devonshire Square, a shady oasis of calm, a stone’s throw from the heaving traffic of Bishopsgate. The warehouses, built in the early 19th century for the East India Company, were used to store the huge volumes of tea the Company imported from the East. Over time they fell into disrepair but were restored and converted into office blocks between 1978 and 1985. The Georgian brick façades have a comforting solidity to them; these were strictly commercial, utilitarian buildings.
The contrast with the club’s interior could hardly be greater. It has been fitted out in what might be described as Hotel Modern Opulent by the interior designers March & White at a reputed cost of £25m. Dark wood panelling, white marble and a mind-boggling variety of specially designed furniture are hallmarks of the scheme. The effect is grand and plush rather than intimate or cosy. It is telling that Brian is introducing a caviar trolley to the dining room. The club has 68 rooms in which members can stay. Later in the year, the club’s gym and treatment rooms will open next door.
Brian has a formidable record of success in the club world. His first venture was Home House in Portman Square, which opened as a club in 1998, followed by The Arts Club on Dover Street and the Upstairs Club above L’Escargot on Greek Street.
Brian first thought about opening a club when, as a member of the Travellers Club, he had a friend who had dreadlocks and another who never wore a tie and were therefore not allowed in. ‘I thought,’ Brian remembers, ‘there’s an opening there.’ And so there was. The Devonshire is Brian’s first venture in the City. ‘Mayfair and St James’s are full of clubs but the City’s not,’ he says. The Devonshire Club is financed by a small syndicate of private backers. The Tory peer Lord Ashcroft has a 60 per cent stake.
For Brian, the Devonshire Club represents the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. Many years ago, when he was running a restaurant in Bermuda, a tipsy American woman offered him some careers advice: ‘Buy an office block, you’ll never regret it.’ At the time, he thought it was absurd advice for a humble restaurateur but now, with the acquisition of the Devonshire Square building, he has followed it. The question is, will he regret it? Somehow, I doubt it.
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Who has influenced you most professionally? My father Tony Clivaz. If you were not running your clubs, what would you be doing? Running a bookshop. Which is your favourite city, bar London? Paris. What is the worst feature in a club? The bore at the bar. Where do you most like going on holiday? Kenya.