Reason for joining exclusive old Colombo club


A friend’s motivations for joining one of Colombo’s exclusive old clubs illustrates the shocking things people do to survive in the 21st century third world.

Forget about even applying for membership unless you went to the right schools. Chances are you don’t even know that this club exists. It doesn’t advertise and its entrance is heavily camouflaged against curious eyes. Unlike the better known acronym heavy social/sports clubs in Colombo, this club avoids taking part in anything involving running around in the sun.

The membership prefers dignified, civilised activities such as reading their paper uninterrupted — ideally accompanied by a proper Scotch. The surroundings of the club are carefully designed to facilitate these holy rituals. There are plenty of papers about so you don’t have to engage in humiliating and blasphemous behaviour such as intruding on a fellow member for a page.

Most importantly the place is well shielded from the blare of the outside world. The ancient high ceilings and deep verandas keep the place well cooled and shaded. The seating is comfortable specially when you are moving through your 70s. All you have to do is ring the bell that comes with your drink and the efficiently invisible staff will ensure you don’t have to suffer the sadness of an empty glass. The food is not bad but easily unavailable. The focus is drink in gentlemanly quantities — not food.

Club rules shield you from the evil summons of mobile phones and dangerous predators such as wives. It is unthinkable that a member would have a girl friend. Unmentionables such as courtesans and mistress stay in one’s private worlds beyond the gates.

The most important rules of the club are naturally unwritten. You will never hear about them from another member. These are steeped in the arcane events which have gelled odd habits into law by the weight of history. Thankfully the bartender will diplomatically fill you in. Central to these rules is a pecking order of seniority. It dictates everything down to when and where you can sit. Given that practically everyone is more than twice your age, you quickly understand you place.

The application process culminates in an interview with one aim: to see if you can verbalise a convincing reason to be accepted in good polished language. Having the class to wear (and own) a proper suit is a requirement too obvious to mention – as is the school tie. If you pass and don’t get black balled, you’ll be invited to drop in any time. The staff will know you by name when you walk in.

Along with acquiring a temporary refuge from wife and brood there comes of course the natural set of connections. With proper people – not riff raff like politicians.  But the best reason for joining?

The best parking this side of Pettah machan!

46 comments

  1. fabulous post. your descriptions are outstanding and leaves me guessing to which the establishment in question is – the Colombo Club per se, the Eighty Club – surely not the Capri…

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    • This is about Orient Club. The bell, old school tie and the seating position are the giveaways. A wonderful place.

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  2. It’s 80 club, right? Have rather a hilarious bit of history with it – something un-staid, non-gentlemanly and that was totally frowned upon by the “regulars”!

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  3. 🙂 I think you chaps might be barking up the wrong tree. The Club is alongside a rather famous hotel overlooking the sea. Entrance is via said hotel. Never figured out if its actually on hotel land or whatever. Been there only once. If thats the place Cerno is talking about🙂

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  4. 😀 Didn’t expect such a response! Thank you for the comments. I confess I have never been inside this club’s premises. Some of the details have been “blurred” to protect my “source”🙂 who I think is genuinely thrilled to find a place he can escape to for a bit of peace and quiet.

    Kirigalpoththa ???😐 you lost me there.

    maf:😀 thank you🙂 I don’t want to get my friend into hot water (not that I’m assuming the membership reads blogs) by confirming the place “in public”. However I can definitely say it is not the 80 club🙂

    Angel: Love to hear about it. Feel free to change the details to protect the guilty😉

    Harsha: Already eliminated one option so I won’t give anything away publicly – you’ll know soon enough😉

    Pericles: Hmm.. as far as I know its not a place by the sea.

    Ashan: Thank you🙂 Its definitely not the 80 club. The pettah reference was my little “creative licence”😉 According to my “source” it wasn’t clear if this club accepted women or not – wives were certainly allowed. Might be that most of the members are men or only men were allowed to be members.

    Char: “AA”??😐

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  5. AA – Automobile Association. Situated opp galle face, has been there for ages and a common place for old timers, way before SSC’s. My unc used to be a regular, nbt sure whether place is still running.🙂

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  6. Da Club is already mentioned in the Comments section🙂 Only male members but women are allowed since some years ago. However, ‘mistresses’ are not encouraged according to the unwritten ‘code’

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  7. Girigoris: “Da Club” ??!! Sounds like a rapper’s den🙂

    Kirigalpoththa & Char:😈

    For the exclusive few who have commented, the name of the club will be revealed in an exclusive SECRET MEMBERS ONLY (that is those you who comment on this post) email from yours truly. Naturally, you’re confidentially is expected as it would be highly improper to reveal its secrets to others🙂

    Ashan The email you gave bounced so you’ll have to leave a usable one if you want to be in “the know”

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  8. The 80 Club has gone to the dogs. The facade of the building is still ok, but there is a massive amount of building going on at the back.

    What si this mysterious club? The CC?

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    • since you’ve commented on this post I emailed you the answer😀 One email bounce but you should get it if I guessed the email address correctly

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    • Interesting🙂 I’m sure the Orient Club would want to claim that they are elitist🙂 Hope they weren’t racist to you though.

      I’m curious as to why you feel that the Orient Club is a “most elitist and possibly racist mens only club in the country” ?

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      • well, the Orient Club’s male only membership register is made up of mostly English speaking Singhalese with a smattering of Tamils and other ethnicities. It is common knowledge that men from a predominantly ‘trading’ ethnic group are dissuaded into becoming members.

        About the OC being elitist, their club ethos is probably the only true ‘private men’s club’ there is in this country. Where the focus is all about legacy and respecting the members privacy, and not about making a quick buck, like opening their doors to all and sundry. I think they maintain as policy, a membership of not more than 300 at any given time. That alone makes them the most elitist in the country, more so than even the Colombo Club i would think, which has sadly become just a common business club, with about the same prestige as an airline business class lounge at your average airport.

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  9. Bulankulama: That’s a well written write up🙂 Thank you. I think it quite well sums up what my friend described. Though he WAS actually focused on the parking oddly enough…😐

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    • Parking is to pick up your child from Royal or Ladies. Old school tie is prevalent in a very big way even in most bar chats. It’s always us vs them. A few Trinitians have surfaced now, but it’s mostly two other prominent schools.
      I too think its elitist. Not only the school, but the family background is also looked at. No new membership for the moment, unless someone resigns. Even if there are a dozen deaths, I can’t see them accepting even a couple of members in a hurry.

      I still say, one of the best clubs in Colombo. I am a member of most clubs, including this one.

      There are a few young politicians hanging around there, but not Mervin Silva types. You know the type right?

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      • 😆 I hope I didn’t get my friend into trouble!🙂 Yes I think the Mervin Silva types could find the place a bewilderingly hard to comprehend to say the least.

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  10. Last time I read this back in 2009, I was rather young and naive, reading this again a few years later, older and slightly more wiser, I have my suspicions as to the identity of this mysterious club.

    Cerno please message me and let me know! I want to put this matter at rest!🙂

    Cheers

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  11. This 1949 description of the club below should shed some light hopefully.
    —————————————
    The ultra elite Orient Club founded in 1894 represented the peak of the indigenous social order in Colombo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its members were those aristocrats, doctors, lawyers, “landed proprietors,” gentelman artistes and administrators who were attracted to the recreational facilities around bar, lounge, billiards, chess and bridge. The chat embraced culture and politics and it is likely that many a memorandum in the struggle for constitutional devolution was drawn up within its portals. Indeed, the club had as members the most prominant legislators of the day. The Orient Club was trans-ethnic and cosmopolitan in orientation. Its minutes from the period prior to 1912 indicate a membership of 78 Sinhalese, 4 Moors, 12 Tamils, 25 burghers & Eurasians, 4 Colombo Chetties, 1 Parsee, 1 West Indian (TW Roberts) and one whose ethnicity could not be ascertained. There was one significant exception to its openness however: Europeans were specifically debarred from membership in what was clearly a counter colour bar, a form of anti-colonial resistance.

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  12. Hi, sad to note that my identity was found out by one of the heavy weights if the club!
    I thought theres an unwritten law to keep these things confidential.

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    • Sorry to hear that. Don’t know what you identity is and I certainly didn’t reveal any info such as an email address (which actually doesn’t indicate who you are). Still what you’ve written is essentially harmless and I’m sure the club has more class than to get peeve over a blog that a handful of people read.

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