You hear about the haute ton visiting Almack’s all the time in Regency novels. I thought it would be fun to tell you a little bit more about these assembly rooms in London. They were the first to admit men and women, which is another reason they became so popular. A mixed-sex social venue for the upper class was a big deal!
With such a venue in place, people could mingle at Almack’s as opposed to going to one of the grand aristocratic houses in the London. Almack’s opened in St. James on King Street in February of 1765. It was first opened to compete with the Carlisle House because masquerade balls had gained a significant amount of notoriety.
Many people referred to Almack’s as a gambling club that permitted women. The male members elected the female members and the female members did the same for the male members. Today, it would be called a casino. It was open all night; Mr. and Mrs. Almack would serve a small supper, and tea was also poured.
Almack’s was ultimately the place to see and be seen. Throughout the Regency romance novels that you read, this is where the ladies go to find a suitor – and to ensure that they are asserting their claim to be in a high social rank. Anyone who was anyone spent some time here, dancing, gambling and socializing.
The building itself was a Palladian style with tall arch-topped windows. There were gigantic mirrors on the walls, a crystal chandelier, and various rooms for dancing, supper, and gaming.
The dancing was limited to country dances and, after the Regency declaration, the quadrille and waltz were introduced. The dancing was limited to avoid suggestions of impropriety.
The ton balls, which were usually held on Wednesday evenings, had supper at 11 pm and the doors were then closed for admittance. Dancing and gambling would take place the rest of the evening. Almack’s chose to serve supper as a way to separate itself from the other balls taking place around London.
One thing that I've always found interesting was that Almack’s was a dry establishment, so the gentlemen had to deal with that restriction in order to be there. Though they knew they needed to be there, not only to meet eligible ladies, but as escorts for female family members. Only tea and lemonade were served, and a strict dress code was enforced, with white cravats and knee breeches being the norm. A variety of patronesses were seen at Almack’s throughout the years and it continued to be an important social destination for the upper class of society.