Last week, Birley and his ex-wife, Annabel Goldsmith — the club’s namesake — hosted two private dinners for a total of 320 friends, including Nan Kempner, John Profumo, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy, Drue Heinz, Claus von Bulow, Lord and Lady Black, Andrew Parker Bowles, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and the Earl of Suffolk at the underground restaurant just off Berkeley Square.
Barry Humphries, a longtime friend of Birley’s, did his Dame Edna schtick on both nights. He regaled the audience with tales of a big love affair with Birley. “This place was going to be called Edna’s until that scheming minx, Annabel, came along,” he said.
But beyond laughing it up with old friends, Birley has been showing off some of the changes he’s made — with help from his daughter, the artist, India Jane Birley — in a bid to draw the 20- to 40-year-old crowd back to the club.
“In the Eighties, Annabel’s bar was crammed full of people until 2 a.m. Since then, about 500 new bars have opened in London — the Art Deco bar at Claridges, Zuma and The Collection — and I think there’s a perception among the young now that Annabel’s is snooty and old,” Birley says over a cup of tea and a Cohiba one drizzly afternoon in his study above the club.
So Birley and India Jane ripped out the old bar, which resembled a four-poster, double bed (“It’s gone to that great bar graveyard,” Birley quips), and replaced it with a longer, more user-friendly model. The new, rectangular version has a slick, brass and orange glass surface, and can accommodate up to three barmen and at least 20 guests at a time.
“It still looks like a first-class, 19th-century railway carriage,” says Birley. “But now it’s more theatrical. In the past, people were using the bar as a place to wait before going to dinner. I want it to have its own personality again.”