Recently I had the pleasure of staying for three days at one of the city clubs with which the URC enjoys a reciprocal association, namely the Royal Automobile Club Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia.
Over the years I have on my occasional visits abroad enthusiastically responded to the words of encouragement contained in our Club’s membership papers to “avail of these (reciprocity) arrangements “ in the knowledge that we would be “extended a warm welcome”, in premises which are invariably exciting architecturally and steeped in local history and culture. I have found that in doing this I have been privileged to savour something rather special about the character and flavour of the particular city which I am visiting at the time. Thus, it has, for example, been rather special to pass through the imposing entrance hall of the Down Town Association in New York, a venerable high-ceilinged old building in a narrow street adjacent to Wall Street, with its large period sepia photo-portrait of former President, Franklin D Roosevelt at the foot of the grand staircase; or to breakfast in the splendour of the historic yet modern dining-room of the Carlton Club in St James’s Street, London, at the foot of the fine portrait of Lord Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (my “neighbour” from Mountstewart, and key figure at the Congress of Vienna); or to be served, while bathing, with a dazzling and ice-rattling gin and tonic by a white-coated steward from poolside at the United Services Recreation Club in Kowloon, Hong Kong. And the welcome at these establishments has invariably been warm and gracious.
But what, then, about the Royal Automobile Club Victoria? This is a most impressive establishment with all the facilities and services which one would expect in a top hotel in a great world city, but perhaps enhanced by a welcome degree of intimacy. The Club is situated towards the quieter end of colourful and lively Bourke Street, with its high quality buskers, and modern softly clanging tramcars passing by. On arrival through the swing door, the visitor is confronted, in the spacious foyer, by a splendid plum red shiny vintage Bentley sports car – an instant “wow factor”. This large modern club occupies an entire middle-sized skyscraper, and has a selection of restaurants and bars, ranging from formal to smart casual, a superb library/reading room, smaller meeting areas and business facilities, a busy gym and spa, a basement car park; and the bedrooms are spacious and luxuriously appointed, in which the mini-bars are more like well stacked midi-bars. The club’s premises comprise both the Bourke Street establishment, where I stayed, and an out-of town country club with golf course. The tariffs are not expensive, considering the location and range of services available.
I look forward in the future to exploring some more reciprocal clubs, to which my visits thus far have proved to be highlights of my travels.