A bustling nightlife scene has always been an important part of London’s West End, although it has not always looked quite like the Covent Garden and Leicester Square that we see today. One theme, however, has not changed. Today, two of the most imposing venues that dominate Leicester Square are the Hippodrome and the Empire, two casinos that are very different in atmosphere but that are similar in size and spread across multiple floors.
Casino culture in years gone by was an altogether more low-key affair. But remnants of it still exist if you know which of the West End’s labyrinth of narrow lanes to choose.
In the 19th century, there were dozens of Gentlemen’s Clubs in the West End, where the well-to-do would mingle over brandy and cigars in leather bound luxury to discuss the important matters of the day. The St James’s Club, better known as Crockford’s, was the pick of the bunch, frequented by the most distinguished movers and shakers in London society. These included none less than the Duke of Wellington, one of the most influential statesmen of the Regency period, who twice served as Prime Minister.
It was he who sponsored founder William Crockford’s 1828 bid to introduce real money casino games. Hazard, a dice game similar to craps, was the game of choice, and immense sums were won and lost.
Today, Crockfords lives on. Housed behind a discreet door like any other on Curzon Street it retains its air of exclusivity. The dress code is formal and the high roller tables are not for everyday bankrolls.
The Clermont Club
Back in the late 1950s, John Aspinall’s club on Berkeley Square was a magnet for the rich and famous. Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s party-loving sister, was a regular, as were some of the most famous politicians and movie stars of the day. Casino gaming was not exactly legal back then, but the story goes that the new Betting and Gaming Act that was established in 1961 and legalised wagering on various games was rushed through to avoid any embarrassment at the Clermont Club.
John Aspinall went on to even greater deeds in conservation and after several changes of ownership, the Clermont Club closed in 2018. It briefly reopened last year but closed again after just six weeks and its future is uncertain.
Maxim’s is situated on a back street adjacent to Kensington Palace, which is home to several senior members of the Royal Family including the Prince and Princess of Wales, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, Princess Eugenie and family and several others.
That tells you all you need to know about the clientele. Maxim’s is a members-only club and has 26 tables offering classic casino games. It is a real step back in time and seems a world away from the vast choice of live games and slots you can access online through the web-based casinos shown at onlinecasinolist. Casino gaming has changed almost beyond recognition. But the past lurks around many corners in London if you know where to look!