These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren't For the Faint of Heart
These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart

Aimee Heidelberg - December 10, 2022

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Emil Schmidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Roxburghe Club (1812)

The Roxburghe Club was dedicated to reprinting ancient literature, but author John Timbs (pg 187-193) questions whether this focus was shoved aside for more immediate pleasures, “It may, however, be questioned whether “the dinner” of the Club were not more important than the literature.” A club menu featured in Timb’s book shows a glutton’s dream variety. It included turtle cuts, chicken, ham, haddock, lamb, tongue, whitings, quail, prawns, and various tarts and puddings. With those mouth-watering menus comes progressively larger dinner and drink bills, despite decreasing member numbers. The memoirs of member Joseph Haselwood reprimand the other members for their gluttony. He said, “Your cits are the only men for a feast; and therefore, behold us, like locusts, travelling to devour the good things of the land, eastward oh!”

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Scientists who eat the plants and animals they study are following in the tradition of Charles Darwin. NPR.

Glutton Club (1820s)

Before Charles Darwin traveled to the Galapagos Islands and became a controversial figure for his theory of evolution, he developed a reputation for adventure as a member of Cambridge University’s Glutton Club, students who literally ate their research.They were infamous for seeking out “birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate.” His experience at the Glutton Club led to Darwin’s later taste-testing of other exotic meats such as Puma, iguana, armadillos, giant tortoise (and tried to drink their urine, but said it was “limpid,”, and had only a very slightly bitter taste”), the ostrich-like lesser rhea, and a rodent believed to be an agouti, meat Darwin declared as “the best I ever tasted.”

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Societies like these kept aviaries of birds displaced from their home territory. Wellcome Collection.

Acclimatisation Society (1859)

London’s Acclimatisation Society believed in biodiversity – even if it was forced. The club were firm believers that animals and plants could be introduced and adapt to any climate over time. Furthermore, they believed it could even enhance the native species. They completely ignored the fact that these species took several thousands of years to adapt to their original climate. In the London chapter, biodiversity wasn’t the only thing on the menu, dining experiences at the club included many of the species the group sought to acclimatize, reportedly including African eland (antelope) and American partridges.

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Feast of Herod, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1531), Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cannibal Club (1863)

Let’s clear the air, here: The Cannibal Club did not consume human meat. It’s not one of those clubs, thank goodness. Its official symbol is a mace carved to look like a man chewing on a human thigh bone (in the most racist way we can imagine in modern times). But the club was more interested in the practice of cannibalism. Luckily, none of the members were known to have actually partaken in this taboo. Yet even the club’s interest in cannibalism is questionable. Dane Kennedy’s biography of its founder, Sir Richard Francis Burton, makes the Cannibal Club sound more like a bunch of guys getting together to talk about things like ethnicity, sexuality, and other areas where they held opinions that would shock ‘polite’ society.

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
“Three men working in a laboratory” by simpleinsomnia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The X Club (1864 – 1893)

Even the most dedicated scientists need to step out of the lab. Ya know, get out and drink with their buddies and talk shop at the clubs. The X Club gave some of the most dedicated scientific minds of the time a chance to discuss their research and findings over dinner, focusing on the outcomes of their research rather than trying to integrate religious principles into their findings. The X-Club’s name even followed the scientific principle of change and advancement. As founding member Herbert Spencer noted, “it committed to nothing.” The X-Club were strong proponents of science over religion during a time when it was very much not okay to separate the two. There was only one rule for the X Club: There are no rules. Anyone suggesting that the club even keep minutes would be shot down, as that violated the only rule.

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Illustration from a menu of the Ichthyophagous Club. Henry Voight Collection of American Menus

Ichthyophagous Club: (New York, 1880 – 1887): Extreme Seafood

Many people like a good cut of salmon or a chilled oyster on the half shell. The Ichthyophagous Club took aquatic eating much farther. Their goal was simple. Eat as many unusual marine creatures as possible to prove that there were many undiscovered species fit for human consumption. They would serve punch and a plate of fish that would test even modern diners. Some fare was considered strange at the time but are on many modern menus. The clubs would serve mussels, salmon, and lobster, which many of us know and love today. But some of the group’s menu items never made it on to the modern palate such as starfish, porpoise steak, and periwinkles.

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
A pamphlet for a Thirteen Club event. Atlas Obscura.

The Thirteen Club (1890)

New York’s Thirteen Club feared no superstition. Members walked into the dining room under a ladder. They hosted dinners seated at thirteen tables, with exactly thirteen items on the menu. They ate cakes decorated with black cats and had a jolly time smashing mirrors, spilling salt, and undermining superstitions. Their love of thirteen led to efforts to remove the stigma of the number. Members would write to judges to request prisoners not be hung on the thirteenth of the month. And they sat at Table 13 at restaurants and other clubs.

These Notorious Dining and Drinking Clubs Weren’t For the Faint of Heart
Members of The Explorers Club. via The Explorers Club.

Explorers Club (1904)

New York’s Explorers Club is sounds like one of those clubs that focus on just travel. But they ended up with an intense reputation. It was dedicated to scientific exploration and multidisciplinary research. It is most notorious for their 47th Annual Banquet in 1951 than the actual activities of the club. They famously consumed flesh of a wooly mammoth, a 250,000 year old beast discovered in an Alaskan glacier. But the reality is slightly less jaw-dropping. Yale University scientists found, based on a sample of the leftover meat from that dinner, that guests were actually consuming green sea turtle. As one of the Yale researchers said, “To me, this was a joke that no one got. It’s like a Halloween party where you put your hand in spaghetti, but they tell you it’s brains. In this case, everyone believed it.”

Where did we find this stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Aston, T. & Brock, M. (1984). The History of the University of Oxford. Oxford University Press

Bompas, G. (1885) Life of Frank Buckland. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Lord, E. (2010). The Hellfire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and secret societies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Timbs, J (1872) Club Life of London. London: John Camden Hotten.

Walter, A. (1871). The life and death of the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks. London: Bradbury, Evans.

Ward, E. (1756) A Compleat and Humorous Account Of all the Remarkable Clubs and Societies in the Cities of London and Westminster. London: J.Wren, Bible and Crown.

Ten amazing facts about the ancient Roman dinner parties, Bhanva Narula, 2020

That’s who ate all the pies. Jane Stevenson, 2008.

30th January – Dinner at the Calves Head Club. Martin Day, 2012.

Kit-Cat Club. Phillip Carter, 2005.

Stranger Things’ Hellfire Club: How 18th century ‘evil’ cult gained notoriety for its mockery of religion, promiscuity. Esme Louise James, 2022.

The Society of Dilettanti. Rachel Knowles, 2014.

The Original Hellfire Club: WHere British Elits Practiced Pagan Rites and Bacchanalian Orgies. Dan Stables, 2022.

The Strange Story of Charles Darwin and the Glutton Club. Brent Swancer, 2020.

Famous foodies: Charles Darwin. Chloe Diski, 2003.

The X Club: Power and authority in Victorian Science. (Book review) Susan Farnsworth, 2020.

The 1880s Supper Club that Loved Bad Luck. Cara Ciaimo, 2017.

The club dedicated to eating unconventional aquatic creatures. Anne Ewebank, 2017.

The Time 250,000-year-old mammoth was served for dinner. Hannah Keyser, 2014.

Secret club’s food to die for. (n.a.) 2017.

The U.K.’s most dangerous supper club. Benloti, 2011.

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