17 July 2015 – The Independent
Cambridge House in Piccadilly, the former home of the “In and Out Club”, is set to host another watering hole after an application was lodged for a new drinking licence. The central London site – where the “in” and “out” signs by its gates while it housed the Naval and Military Club provided the club’s nickname – was bought out of receivership by the billionaire property investors David and Simon Reuben in 2011. Since then, proposals have been worked up to convert it into the UK’s most expensive private home.
However, new plans have come to light this week for turning its forecourt into an open-air dining venue. An “English garden party type theme”, with craft beers, gins and foods, is proposed for part of the property, where past members include Lawrence of Arabia and the author Rudyard Kipling. Ambitious designs to create a super-prime home are still on the agenda. But why is this site so famous and what will the new leisure plans do to help it return to its former glory?
The Georgian mansion is near the Ritz Hotel and was used by the Naval and Military Club from 1865 until becoming vacant in the late 1990s. It was also the home of the former prime minister Lord Palmerston for around 20 years until he died in 1865. Aldersgate Investments –part of the Reuben Brothers empire – bought the property and the adjacent buildings for around £130m from the receiver, Allsop. Before that, it was owned by the family trusts of the real estate investor Simon Halabi, who was declared bankrupt in 2010.In 2013 planning permission was secured from Westminster City Council to convert the asset into a single, 48-room luxury home boasting a swimming pool, 35,000-bottle wine cellar, ballroom, libraries, rooms for staff and a bar. However, when the property was sold, it was a crumbling Grade I listed mansion, meaning its transformation would take serious investment and time.
Under the latest deal, a company called AVBA (A Very British Affair) was recently granted a short lease to use the forecourt, which sources said could run at least until next year. It is seeking a licence to sell alcohol until July 2018.The application said: “Practically we intend to create an English garden party type theme or village fête atmosphere. The forecourt will have some ‘beach hut’ type structures which will offer various British and Commonwealth traditional foods.” It could have seating for up to 120 people and, subject to planning approval, be open this summer.For the Reuben brothers, the outdoor area will also attract more people to the area, which could have a knock-on effect in encouraging a new wave of retailers to open stores there. It is also expected to appease some Westminster councillors, who are keen to see redundant buildings and space in the West End brought back to life. In 2012 residential experts predicted Cambridge House could fetch £214m when sold. Central London property values have soared since then, however, and experts reckon it could now secure a price tag in excess of £300m.
The Reubens, who were ranked as Britain’s second-richest home-grown billionaires by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index earlier this year, were not available for comment.