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Sherlock Holmes club endures for decades

By KELLY NIX

Published: August 14, 2009

A BLOCKBUSTER film released later this year about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes will introduce a new generation to the fictional consulting detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 1800s.

But for nearly 40 years, with no press and unbeknownst to most of the town’s residents, The Diogenes Club of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a private gentleman’s club, has met quietly to discuss all things Sherlockian.

“I think we are the last black-tie society on the Peninsula at this point,” said the club’s president, Dr. Bill Berg, 62.

Like it has since its inception in 1971, the club meets regularly to talk about the stories of Sherlock Holmes, discuss Victorian-era London and eat, drink and tell jokes, said Berg, a radiologist who joined in 1984.

“We are trying to recreate the atmosphere of a London men’s club of the Victorian era,” Berg said. “It’s a lot of fun just to get out and be with the guys for a night and to forget about the worries of your profession.”

The Carmel club is a scion, or offshoot, of the Baker Street Irregulars, the national club based in New York City that once boasted as members presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

In Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock Holmes is a London detective who uses his intellectual prowess to help police crack the toughest of cases.

The Carmel club’s two dozen members, who range from their mid-30s to mid-90s, begin meetings by offering a toast to various characters in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

A member then spends up to an hour presenting a paper he’s written about an aspect of the Sherlock Holmes stories, such as villains Holmes has encountered or some of the detectives he has worked with.

“We pretend John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are actual living characters,” Berg said. “The papers are written tongue in cheek.”

The group hosts its meetings at local restaurants, and dinner is always a highlight of the get-togethers.
“We always have a great meal,” Berg said.

Though members sometimes wear the recognizable deerstalker hat Sherlock Holmes wore, they wear tuxedos instead of period costumes, which members of some other clubs wear.

“One of the past presidents was nice enough to get a formal deerstalker for everyone that would go with a black tuxedo,” Berg said. “It was black with satin and has everybody’s name inscribed inside. Sometimes I’ll wear that if it’s raining.”

Members of the Carmel club include retired Carmel detective Pete Poitras, Dean Chapman of Chapman Gallery and Casanova restaurant general manager Jean Hubert.

Chuck Winge, an accountant, is the only remaining member who has been with the group since its first year, Berg said.

Two of the Carmel club’s members, Michael Kean and Walter Jaffe, are also members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the prestigious NYC club.

Hubert said he became, in a way, an accidental member of the Carmel club. In 1999, while Hubert was a chef at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, the Diogenes Club of Carmel-by-the-Sea met at MPCC for one of its regular gatherings.

When Hubert — who read most of the Sherlock Holmes books when he was a child — found out there was Holmes-related club at MPCC, he wanted to find out what it was all about.

“I was actually cooking for the event,” said the 47-year-old. “And I went ‘Wow, what is this?’”

That night, a quiz about Sherlock Holmes was presented to members. Hubert listened to the questions then jotted down answers on a paper napkin.

“I gave it to the guy in charge and I did pretty well,” he said. “And I got an invitation to join.”

Though it’s an old-style gentleman’s club, whose members unapologetically drink cocktails, tell jokes, and smoke cigars and pipes (one member even brings along a special blend of pipe tobacco to the meetings), its members are anything but snobby, Hubert said.

“It is, by no means, a nerdy group of individuals,” he said. “They are intellectual, but there is nothing snooty about the group at all.”

The club’s name was taken from a fictional gentleman’s club featured in several of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Diogenes was a Greek philosopher.

Though women can’t be members of the Diogenes Club of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a rule since it was formed 38 years ago, every year the club has a ladies night where women can come as guests.

“Interestingly,” Berg said, “more and more women are writing in the Baker Street Journal, the main journal of the Sherlock Holmes national society.”

In December, Warner Bros. Pictures will release the action film, “Sherlock Holmes,” Which is being described by the movie company as a “dynamic new portrayal” of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character.

“Revealing fighting skills as lethal as his legendary intellect,”according to the film’s website, “Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and unravel a deadly plot that could destroy the country.”

“My son, who is familiar with the stories, said we probably won’t be thrilled with the movie,” said Berg. But they’ll probably see it anyway.

A comedy about Sherlock Holmes starring Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen is slated for a 2010 release.

Berg said the club is always seeking new members. Those interested attend a meeting as a guest of another member. If he gets along well with other members, he undergoes a quiz or two, pays a $35 annual fee, and he’s in.

“You go to a few meetings and give an original paper, and that’s about it,” Berg said. “It’s pretty darn easy.”

For information about the Diogenes Club of Carmel-by-the-Sea, call Berg at (831) 458-5809.