The Real Riot Clubs: VERSA’s Guide to Drinking Clubs – Part 1 VERSA

Freshers are over. You’ve woken up every day for a week with a hangover, and now you’ve realised you’ve got 24hours to turn in your first essay, but you haven’t even started the reading. You’ve been to Bridge, pulled at Plush, and never want anyone to know what you got up to in the loos at Wahoo. But what about the other side of Oxford? That film about a Riot Club. The stories you’ve read in the Daily Mail about funny tail coats, pig’s heads, and all round debauchery. Whether just curious about what really goes on behind these closed doors or maybe you want to get involved, VERSA’s Guide will dispell the myths and get down to the facts of Oxford’s most infamous, and most secrative drinking clubs.

The Bullingdon Club (The Buller)

Founded: 1780

What to look for: Navy blue tails with ivory lapels, mustard waistcoats, and sky blue/ivory bow ties (c.£3,500 at Ede & Ravenscroft). At more informal occasions a stripped sky blue/ivory tie can also be worn (c.£80).

The Bullingdon Club Crest

What they do: No doubt the most notorious club in Oxford, and up there with the top in the world, The Bullingdon Club is well known for its raucous dinners. However, in part thanks to the attention attracted by recent alumni (Cameron et al.), these have somewhat quietened down over the years. So much so in fact that last month The Tab (falsely) reported that the club was ‘facing extinction.’

What it costs: With a uniform that costs more than half the average maintenance grant, and dinners more expensive than a commemoration ball, the Bullingdon is as expensive as it is exclusive.

How do I join? All prospective members are put up by the current members, however, if there was one thing that The Riot Club got right, it’s that “If you have to ask, you’re just not the right sort of chap.”

In a sentence: The pinnacle of the Oxford privileged, or the pinnacle of Oxford’s depravity, depending on which way you look at it.

The Piers Gaveston Society (Piers Gav)

Founded: 1977 (though they’d like you to think it was older)

Piers Gaveston: Edward II’s Lover?

What to look for: A fleeting glimpse of scantily dressed guests being whisked off by private coach to their annual party.

What they do: Named after the supposed lover of King Edward II, the Buller is no match for the debauchery of this society. With a strict no-cameras policy, ultra-secretive locations and most guests too embarrassed to admit they went, it hard to know much about the Piers Gav party. A boutique drug dealer is provided for guests and ‘orgy tents’ are a plenty.

What it costs: Tickets are the same price as the average minor-college ball but expect to pay a lot more if you want to indulge in everything they have to offer.

How do I join: Membership is limited to 12 undergraduates, however, each one of these is allowed to bring up to 20 guests to their event.

In a sentence: Pig-gate was probably the least scandalous thing about Cameron’s time at the party.

The Stoics

Zeno the First Stoic: An Alcoholic?

Founded: unknown

What to look for: Streams of drunk undergrads heading straight for Bridge VIP  after their termly drinks.

What they do: Despite having a more diverse member base than the Bullingdon Club, very little is known about the Stoics. They prefer to keep below the radar, and out of the national press, which in turn requires them to be less outrageous than their better-known counterparts. They hold three lunches a year (where guests are invited), and the same number of member-only dinners, as well as a termly drinks party that has played host to the good and the great of Oxford socialites over the years.

What it costs: Membership is free, but between all their events, a member needs to be a stoic when it comes to his wallet.

How do I join: Most prospective members are invited to drinks first, and potentially a lunch as well before being considered for election.

In a sentence: The Buller, without the reputation, or the scandal.

The Gridiron Club (The Grid)

Founded: As a beefsteak club in 1884

Oxford Elitism?

What to look for: Well-dressed private school types sauntering through their secret door at the back of Pizza Express.

What they do: Perhaps the tamest club in Oxford, members of the Grid have the ability to meet friends and take guests for discounted lunches in their leather-decked rooms above Pizza Express. With copies of The Telegraph, Country Life, Horse & Hound and The Field strewn across the tables it is, for most members, a home away from home.

What it costs: Membership fees are reportedly around £60 a term, which, as one 2nd Year told VERSA, “means I’d have to go three times a week to actually make it worthwhile.”

How do I join: Since women were accepted last term, there has been a major recruitment drive for members of the fairer sex. That said all applicants must be proposed, seconded and counter-signed, with any member able to blackball any candidate.

In a sentence: The feeder for every (better) club.

Oxford’s Most Secretive Club

The Assassins Club

What to look for: Men in robes carrying flaming torches in a field in the middle of nowhere.

What they do: Think PiersGav, but not so much fun. The Assasins (not to be confused with the Assasins Guild) host lavish dinners, with the usual excessive drink, but the eccentricity of the club is overshadowed only by its secrecy.

How do I join: If I told you, I would have to kill you.

The Vincent’s Club

Founded: 1863

What to look for: Hoards of athletes squeezing through the tiny door to the club rooms on St Edward’s St.

The Newly Refurbished Club Rooms

What they do: Club members can meet for drinks at their newly renovated building any time from 0th-9th week, indulging in the clubs infamous ‘Pinkie’. They are also entitled to subsidised lunches and can organise dinners (though ‘crew dates’ is perhaps a more accurate description for the undergraduate ones) in their upstairs dining room.

What it costs: Student members pay a nominal annual fee, but the club mostly relies on its alumni for support.

How do I join: Supposedly set up for ” the picked hundred of the University, selected for all-round qualities; social, physical and intellectual qualities being duly considered,” the club is now almost exclusively for Oxford Blues. VERSA recommends trying your hand at karting or orienteering if (like us) exercise isn’t really your thing. The female equivalent of the Vincent’s is the Atalanta Society, who are allowed access to the Vincents on weekday evenings and Saturday lunchtime.

In a sentence: FTT (if you know, you know).

The White Rose Club

Founded: 1715

The Darker side of Magdalen Bridge…

What to look out for: Any drunk Catholic is potentially a member.

What they do: Famous only for having had two of its members hanged under Magdalen bridge for supporting the Jacobite cause, members of the White Rose are required to keep a glass of water on every table so that they are always able to toast ‘the King over the water’ (Bonnie Prince Charlie). The club meet for regular drinks and dinners as well as so-called ‘snuff parties’, though there where and how is unknown.

How do I join: Membership is limited to 8 male undergraduates, who propose new members on leaving the university. Catholicism is expected, but not required.

In a sentence: Drink to the death, taken literally.

The Zenith Club

Founded: 1902

What they (did): Famous for creating a legacy of ‘one dinner, ten members, ten permanent expulsions.’ At their first and last dinner, the members of the club began to fight and eventually burnt the entire building down. They were all expelled as a result.

What it costs: Your degree.

How do I join: A time machine.

In a sentence: Heroes, one and all.

There are plenty of other options that require no secret initiations, debauched dinners, or fat wallets. Though, many would say that they are just embarrassing. These are mostly politically centred with OUCA’s Port & Policy, OULC’s Beer & Bickering, and OSFL’s Rum & Rights. (See Versa’s Guide to Political Drinks).

If none of these are your cup of tea, however, look out for Versa’s Guide to Drinking Societies: Part 2 to see to see what scandalous activities you can get up to in your college…