Traveler's USA Notebook
Ghosts walk here, and the next new scene is just around the corner
Ghosts walk briskly through the streets of London. Plaques honoring past residents generals and playwrights, statesmen and scientists festoon the walls of buildings where the greats and perhaps a few ingrates lived and worked and helped build, enrich or change a nation.
Theres also the sense that something new lurks. The next new scene. The next new club. The next new (-gulp-) restaurant? A revised limited edition of the London version of Monopoly went on sale in July,2005 and it reflects the spirit of cool Britannia. In goes Covent Garden, the London Eye and Wembley Stadium. Heathrow and Gatwick Airports replace the railroad stations.
London (modern and otherwise), unlike ancient Gaul, is awash in sections. Call them areas, districts, neighborhoods, or (to be proper) by their rightful names Mayfair, South Kensington, Soho, Central London, East End, Southwark, Piccadilly and so on. Want a different vibe? Just grab your brolly (when in London, you know) and chug off. Each area has its own character.
Wherever you go, there are hotels. Each is steeped in the vibes of its area. So many have such wonderful characteristics of their own. So here is the Travelers USA Notebook Guide to London hotels.
RENAISSANCE LONDON HEATHROW HOTEL THERAPY
Plane Spotters Flock for Whoosh and Wonder:
Stressed Travelers Discover Cure in Secret Shangri-La
Room service, please. No need to dress - it's only 11.35 am and we're already at London Heathrow airport. flicking through the papers and looking forward to a lovely lunch to come rolling in with the fog. Wiggle toes in bubble bath, slip into thirsty hotel bathrobe and gaze serenely, OCD-ly, at one's luggage, repacked to perfection here last night after a heavenly steam and sauna downstairs. Impossible not to keep breaking into wide, ridiculous smiles. Are we smug? Are we ever. Unstressed? Like a noodle in warm zabaglione. Cosseted? Divinely. Who imagined that spending a couple of nights at the airport, incognito, could be such a tremendously healing, guilty, giggly and exciting secret pleasure?
And a surprise. Because outside the hermetically-sealed, double-glazed windows of Room 3200 (they call this magical spot a 'standard' room) is the actual airport runway. We're on the the north perimeter of Heathrow airport, baby. Vroom, vroom! It's totally quiet, of course. Bring your binoculars.
So here comes the 24 Hour Room Service and we set it up on the table by the window and just as we're starting to peel our first grape we look out and -omigosh! - here comes American, United, British Airways, British Airways, British Airways, Air Canada, Virgin, Virgin, Trans Aero, Alitalia, Aer Lingus, BMI, Saudi Arabia. LOT, Air India, Quantas, SAS, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Turkish Air, Iberia, and Air France. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Lunch has been entirely forgotten. It's still hot; only minutes have passed. If plane-spotting at the Ren hasn't turned you into a wide-eyed, gasping, jumping-up-and-down, awestruck ten-year old, honey, you're jaded and only mushrooms can save you now.
Fortunately, they're wise to you here. Book a room with a guaranteed, uninterrupted runway view on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, all mod cons included - soundproofed room, Satellite television, tea, coffee, air conditioning, full English breakfast buffet in the Brasserie, access to the Club Lounge (complimentary soft drinks, etc. and also great views of the runway), return tix to the airport on the Heathrow Hoppa bus, car parking, health club and a certificate to commemorate your plane-spotting stay. Prices are friendly and affordable. To book, call the Internal Reservations Department and quote the reference code EARZ at (011) (44) 020 8897 6363 or go to the website and shoot them an email, kid.
You can party here. Locals do it all the time. Maybe that's why it's not your typically cold, impersonal between-two-worlds hotel. Managers are actually nice to the employees. There are 649 guest rooms, and you can squeeze 500 people, even cars, even brides, or tour groups into the event rooms. Locals and airport workers might exercise here. Pilots and air hostesses arrive and depart; and it's 'all hands on deck' when suddenly accommodating hundred of passengers on delayed flights
And still it's a such a quiet place.
Here's a wizard jumping-off point for local adventures. Royal Windsor Castle, Eton, and Southall (with its great curries) are a hop away - you could even take a local bus or two. Ask the concierge, who will sort tours or trips to the Cotswolds, Thorpe Park, Hampton Court Palace, etc..
Whacked-out travelers will like the dinner buffets at the Brasserie, which feature an excellent array of very nice traditional English comfort foods with mint sauce, trifle, and all the rest. Vegetarians and healthy eaters are well catered for. Chef Mario Macabali will leap out, find a cocktail napkin and give you his own recipes for braised red cabbage and light and very puffy Yorkshire pudding.
Quixotically for an airport hotel, this Renaissance has a weirdly old-fashioned, warm, comforting, defiantly English middle-class feel to it, which probably suits most tastes. You can't get dinner in the Brasserie until 6. The health club - no pool - usually shuts at 7.30 pm - earlier or not at all on holidays.
Globe-trotting world citizen Pico Iyer types do not expect Las Vegas or Hong Kong amenities at every stop, but what happened to 24/7 amenities for 24/7 arrivers?
So...what do airport hotel guests want?
We had to ask an expert: the fragrant Jennifer Hardy, the hotel's young marketing whiz. She laughed patiently and spoke with the voice of one who has been a hospitality ace for many moons. You could hear 1000 years of English history and common sense in those bell-like tones:
'They just want to go to bed, ' she whispered.
Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel
LONDON MARRIOTT HOTEL WEST INDIA QUAY
Gorgeous, simply gorgeous, this glass hotel. Jaw-dropping. Youve got to see this. You wont believe it.
Youve got to love the future, doncha?. Youve got to love the newness of it all. .Because thats what the Canary Wharf areas all about. Scary new. This is not your mum's London; not Charles Dickenss London; not even the London of 10 years ago.
Not like the rest of London at all.
And yet, in a way, this is the new power centre of London, where the money is. Loadsamoney, serious hedge fund money, the folding stuff, spondoolix, the wonga, here in the East End of London. Understand this: 200 years ago, give or take, London became the world's financial center. And now its happening again: The Evening Standard calls this area Manhattan on the Thames.
Unbelievable, this. It is exciting, shocking, disorienting to ride up the escalator at the Canary Wharf tube station and land in a glittering, Brave New World, surrounded by massive, looming glass skyscrapers and worker bees - in bespoke tailoring, no less! - rushing madly about amid the twinkling lights and shopping malls.
Welcome to Canary Wharf, on the site of the old London docklands. This was once the busiest port in the world, that helped fuel the growth of the British Empire. Spices and sugar and fruit from all over the world came to this port. Blitzed heavily in WW2, the last docks folded up in 1981.
In 1994 only one skyscraper stood in this chilly, lonely outpost. Then boom! London became the financial capital of the world. Skyscrapers zoomed up. Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Citigroup and all the other global pinstriped thrusters moved in to make a spectacular skyline where there used to be spice warehouses and ragamuffins playing in the muck.
You dont want to take a taxi to Canary Wharf, mate. Not unless youre loaded. It could cost you a small fortune. You take the Tube for 25 minutes to Canary Wharf station and then you flag a taxi or take the DLR three seconds ride to your hotel. And what a hotel it turns out to be.
Your room is 301, also known as the Curve Suite. It has floor to ceiling glass that curves inward on both sides. You feel like you're sitting in an ark, a ship. To your right and to your left are views of water, and just- formed buildings. There are no vibes in the suite. Its all new and all yours. You're living in a Kubrick movie. There is no history. This is London future, suspended.
After a certain hour, you will look through both glass walls and notice that no more people are wandering about below. It is a beautiful Twilight Zone city. At dawn you will look out, and - poof- there they are with their brollies and attaches your hedge fund boys and number-crunchers rushing to work, over the bridge, over the water, in the chilly blue light.
If you want to feel the power, money, ambition and that cool and comforting anomie (which is why we love modern hotels), this is it. There is an old sign we used to see in Manhattan: There is no place like this place anywhere near this place; so this must be the place."
The room colors are cheerful red, gold and green: and should not be confused with the fusty old golds and gloomy greens in the Mayfair hotels. This red is chipper. The green is celadon. There are cheerful black squiggles on the maize and butterscotch carpet. The design team, Richmond International, has done interiors for the Savoy and the Mandarin Oriental in London and Sandy Lane in Barbados. Hey, if you like it this much, and you will, you can live here. There are 47 Executive Apartments atop the hotel. (Make it 46 when TUSANs lottery ticket hits.)
We don't have to croon about the Marriott beds. They're among the best in any hotel. There are 279 rooms and 22 suites. The Curve Suite is one of seven that feature cutting edge design with glass walls on two sides that provide spectacular views of the London skyline, Canary wharf and the River Thames.
Wed like to tell you that Traveler went to the Museum In Docklands. Wed like to tell you Traveler went to the spiffy Catalyst Health And Fitness Club for a swim, a facial, an Indian Head massage, and a £30 manicure and then went out and did some mega deals and a bit of trust-stripping. But the room was so damned awesome and cocoony that Traveler could do nothing but order up two days worth of room service and goggle out the window.
Traveler could have availed herself of the complimentary pressing service or the daily shoeshine. But she preferred to swan around in her complimentary bathrobe and invite some friends over for an unforgettable party. Once during her stay Traveler did manage to stagger down to the Curve Restaurant And Bar and had a fantastic meal. Although it was memorable, Traveler cannot recall the particular details. Which reminds us. There also is a Manhattan Terrace and Bar that offers splendid drinks and splendid views of the water. People sit at outdoor tables, even in the winter. English people. Thats how you tell Brits apart from others.
Visit the Executive Lounge on the seventh floor where the two curved glass walls meet in a sharp point. From here you can see across London for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles....
Happily, there is the Thames Clippers riverline service from Canary Wharf to Central London. It offers both fast commuter ferries along the Thames and two sightseeing voyages the Tate Boat running between Tate Britain and Tate Modern and the River Roamer day ticket for unlimited Hop-on, Hop-off stops for all piers along the route. Ask your guest relations go-to guy, Matthias Missling or the expert at the front desk, Martin Baronick
All guest rooms, all have satellite TV (far too many channels to bother with it a gorgeous joint like this) high-speed Internet and lots and lots of complimentary in-room tea and coffee and a nice safe. Obviously, 24 hour room service. I'll get it
But why would you leave once youre here? Youll stay in Mayfair later on. Soon enough for Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. Do yourself a favour and savour your stay here and skip the long commute.
The best way to get to this hotel is by chauffeured Rolls-Royce. The hotel is actually located on a stretch of water opposite Canary wharf. You can walk across a perfectly nice Orwellian bridge to get to it.
And when you leave, you might to like to exit right and walk a few steps to the charming West India Quay Docklands light Railway Station (DLR). It whisks you in seconds to Canary Wharf tube station. From there, you are only 25 minutes away from the West End. Some people are freaks for train sets. Traveler loves the London underground and always makes a point to go to a new to stop as so many are architectural model marvels (Southwark) or smoky reminders of Britain's finest hour (Goodge Street). If you ain't been on the DLR mate, you ain't from the East End no more, are you?
London Marriott Hotel West India Quay
THE PAVILION HOTEL
The Pavilion, located in the heart of London, is a B&B like no other. The 29 rooms are spotless; the hip, caring staff really looks after you dragging your terrible, brick-filled suitcases up endless winding staircases for you, delivering breakfast to your room every morning.
You're not far from the Edgware Road Underground station, Paddington railway station (which has an express link to Heathrow airport), and you're only a few steps away from a jolly red bus stop where you will be whisked in minutes to anywhere you want to go as long as it's Portobello Road.
Why else would you be staying here?
I'd heard about The Pavilion from a boozed-up, chatty, ruined millionaire in the airport departure lounge: The Pavilion in Sussex Gardens. Great, unbelievable place, and I've stayed everywhere, he said. Thank god I'd remembered the name...for a few days later, the nothing-special ice palace I'd been staying in in Snotsville announced they'd made a mistake on the reservation: I was being turfed out one night early. Nightmare. I rang the Pavilion. One room left. Mine!
As I pull up to the Pavilion a musician is leaving his guitar behind for safe-keeping. A staff member takes it respectfully and carries it off gently. "Take your time, man. We'll look after it.
Check in and up and up and up the stairs to chambers unknown. On the door to mine is a brass plaque: Underwater Love. This is a bit unsettling. The door opposite mine is called Green With Envy. Goodness knows what's on the other doors or inside them.
Okay - there's only one pillow. But that's what your rolled-up coat's for, mate. There's no spa. No hairdryer. And no elevator.
Minimalists, beware: the Pavilion has teensy-weensy rooms, overwrought, wildly decorated rooms done up in dramatic colours. The style, sort of a Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen goes Bollywood on acid, can be a bit of a shock. Every room at the Pavilion has a name, theme and a signature colour.
My Underwater Love room is blue, blue in every shade you can imagine: Wedgwood walls, turquoise patterned draperies, nautical knack-knacks and a turquoise fish toilet seat. A framed print of the mighty fleet, Britain's Empire on the Sea hangs over a bouncy bed (inflatable?) which turns out to be surprisingly comfortable and works wonders for the ol' sacroiliac.
You get: a teamaker, phone, ensuite shower, loo, free breakfast and satellite television with remote in your immaculate little room. And the price - well, the price is not only right, it's ridiculous. Have a look.
Upon check out the next morning (after a noisy bowl of cornflakes and the best sleep I've had all week) the staff ask how else they can help. I'm dashing to a lunch meeting at the best Indian restaurant in London -The Standard, Westbourne Grove W. 2. tel 001 2070 and leave my mammoth bags behind. I'll collect them later. I'll be back months later to stay again: the whimsy, eccentricity, kindness and warm humanity of this one-off gem is a shot in the arm (and the eye, to be fair) after the boring and chilly corporate golds and beiges of nothing-special hotels. Who knew it was a magnet for fashion shoots and celebrity drop-ins? I'd no idea at the time. They were just lovely people who made me welcome.
Visit their brilliant website to view each room:
To book: E-mail
34-36 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park,
London W2, England
dont forget The Standard Indian Restaurant
THE MARRIOTT PARK LANE
Located near the Marble Arch, The Marriott Park Lane achieves something that more expensive, perhaps glitzier, perhaps buzzier hotels miss. It is a perfect place to fall to pieces amid luxurious surroundings. And then, after a suitable rest, get up, get out and go shopping on Oxford St.
Exquisitely comfortable rooms welcome you. The decor walks a wonderfully wiggly line between cozy and clubby. Floral designs dot both duvet cover (burgundy and olive green against yellow and pale yellow) and carpeting (olive green against pale lemon lime); and the furniture is quite stately with its rosewood paneling and brass fixture. No jarring details distract from your mission or make you fuss. The sheets seemed to be the softest sheets in London. We were too crazy, jet lagged and wise to count the threads. Traveler did pull a pillow out of its case just to find a label but, alas, just one of their 100 secrets.
Sure! A lot of rooms dont face the park. You may not have a view. But the hotel is so cocoon-like, you wont mind a bit. Our room, facing the back looked out on some sort of adult school which was fun to watch.
If money is no object or youre on the companys dime, include Executive Lounge privileges when you book. These come with VIP services for the park view executive rooms or suites. Said privileges include continental breakfasts, snacks, desserts, hors douvres, newspapers, magazines and internet access, the use each day of a private board room for eight with a view of the Marble Arch just in case you want to remind your associates of what can happen if they drop the ball.
Chad the concierge is one of the hotels many delightful features. He is very good with people who are out of their minds with jet lag (We name no names.). There are at least a 100 different touches from free shoeshine bag (and shine) to a sewing kit where needles are already threaded. Yes, the hotel maintains the wonderful shoeshine custom. Theres a bag to put your shoes in; you hang it on the door and theyre back immediately. No charge.
Traveler was shocked to step outside the beautiful, beautiful hotel and hear the traffic roaring. When youre inside the hotel, you would think youre in the country. You dont hear anything.
got 8,888 buses going everywhere right outside. But you will save a bundle
no taxis required. And yet youre on Park Lane.
140 Park Lane
Custodians of tradition fulfill their responsibilities in one of two ways 1. They shove it down your throat; or 2. They make you feel part of the continuum.
The Grosvenor House, which has eight floors, 374 rooms and 72 suites, falls into the latter category. Grovesnor House may have been Londons first hotel with an eye toward the American market. Grovesnor House is famous for so many things but the Grovesnor House Art And Antiques Fair is mega on the society list. This years fair takes place 15-21 June.
You really feel the World War II vibe here, the romances and dances and so much more
Historic Grosvenor House is currently undergoing a multi-million pound, top-to-toe restoration to bring this marvelously old-fashioned and glorious hotel up to modern luxury standards. We adore it exactly the way it is now, with its spacious, gracious rooms and suites, marble topped-sinks, old hot and cold taps that say , tasseled draperies, pale, vertically striped wallpaper, comfy sofas and chairs and showers with four knobs to puzzle over.
Were assured that the new Grosvenor House will be greater than ever. Meanwhile this is a great time to scoot in and get a whiff of the old GH before so many of those lovely vibes that tend to lurk in the ambience.
Right now, you wont get much of a view of Hyde Park or Park Lane: the buildings wrapped in scaffolding. Its a kind of a posh Christo. Doesnt matter a bit. You could spend days lazing about in this home away from home, never leaving the hotel , having tea in the Park Room, Italian dining in La Terrazza, ordering up room service, or having a ball in the Great Room, the largest banqueting space in Europe (so big it originally was built as an ice rink) or just lazing in lobby armchairs by the fireplaces.
You can plonk yourself down on a lobby easy chair and see, over the mantelpiece of the blazing fireplace, W. Howard Robinsons portrait of the October 30, 1930 Halloween Ice Carnival. It shows the Prince of Wales (later to be the Duke of Windsor), with ciggies, and all the whirling revelers looking toward him. Coats of arms line the lobby. They bear the names of old toffs, names we all know, Cardigan, Waltham, etc..
Off to one side is the beautiful Red Bar. Charles Adams and Peter Arno cartoons adorn its walls. The lacquered red walls please. Although the Red Bar is supremely old fashioned, dont be afraid to order a cosmo or pina colada. Sink into a dark green chair and hear the tinkling of the grand piano wafting in from the lobby restaurant. On the opposite side of the fireplace wall are old bound volumes. Traveler noticed some dating back to around 1884 but they provably go back farther.
The Park Room Restaurant
Youll find a moderately priced noon to 2:30 and six to 7:30 set menu at the Park Room. Its ideal if youre swanning off to the theatre even for a matinee. The restaurant always provides for vegetarians. One of the popular dishes is a Mediterranean Pithivier The Park Room also serves a tart tatin of endives, vegetable crisps and orange butter sauce. The Park Room with its deep blue carpeting overlooks Hyde Park. Lovely to see a couple seated in the window seeing and being seen on Park Lane. A marble statue of Roman goddess Diana looks on. And of course you can take tea in the Park Room.
Service, service, service. Gentility, well-appointed rooms. Hundreds of English prints line the corridors and adorn the rooms. Executive Lounge a/k/a the Grosvenor House Royal Club hums with an understated gentility. The obsessive service is provided by staff Anna-Barbara Piantino, Kenny Ooi and Anna Baradad .
Wed popped down just to look at the Grosvenor House Health Club, with no intentions of using the facilities. We were tired, cranky and lucky: Justine and Alina were on duty, with smiling but quiet welcomes, as if they were well used to knackered, beaten-up travelers. Justine has an extraordinarily gentle and easy manner, rather like a diplomat or a psychoanalyst, who without seemingly making any effort, asks the right casually-put questions, finds out what you might like or need to do to feel better, and makes it happen.
Unprepared for a swim? No problem. Alina appeared and lent us her own perfectly lovely big barrette to keep long locks up and out of the water. And Justine worked her seemingly nonchalant magic and soon we were melting tired bones happily in a Jacuzzi, devouring all the London newspapers and swanning around in the sparkling blue pool. (There are two large side-by-side Jacuzzis; it is the Grosvenor House after all.) The gorgeous pool has recessed lighting that slowly, magically changes from blue to turquoise to sea green to aqua, with the unusual effect of making the water shimmer iridescently, with two colours on the surface at the same time, rather like swimming in liquid electric taffeta.
the sauna, a shower, and oodles of beauty goos from Molton Brown. Free
lockers and fruit. Forgot your swimsuit? You can buy a swimmie and goggles
on the spot. Justine and Alina are dangerously, helpful people: they make
you feel so cared for, youll never want to stay in any other hotel, which
is sort of the point of Grosvenor House. And why would you? Grosvenor House
The Marriott Park Lane is both a grand gem in a grand setting, and conveniently located. Park Lane, the street, runs opposite Hyde Park. A bit of panache comes from the fancy hotels that front on this grand stretch, as well as the upscale, glitzy auto dealerships where gentlemen buy their motorcars. (In particular, dont miss the multi-level, somewhat flamboyant Cooper store.)
Nearby North Audley St. has loads of jolly little shopper delight Italian cafes. Stop off for a nice cup of tea, a nice cherry tart with warm custard or a bowl of pasta for a fiver. The hotel is only a few meters away from delis serving yogurt; the Marble Arch tube (where you can get your 7 day pass); Prêt, and even MacDonalds, which has been forced to serve healthy alternatives including morning oatmeal (an inexpensive alternative to the traditionally expensive hotel breakfast). If youre coming in to London to do a bit of shopping, theres no finer place to be. Youre steps away from Marks and Spencer the big one, Selfridgess, etc. etc etc.
MARRIOTT COUNTY HALL
Marriott County Hall offers a basic and quintessentially London joy. With the Thames River between, County Hall faces the Houses Of Parliament, the seat of British Government and the home of the world famous clock tower known as Big Ben. The hotel, opened on 6 July 1996, comfortably occupies a sweet portion of the massive structure that once housed the London government. It exudes a subliminal whiff of stability, confidence, eternity, activity and privilege. Supporting that secret perfume, of course, are the décor, furnishings, service. All contribute to a very tangible sense of being in the most exclusive of clubs. This connection to the soul of London is not entirely symbolic or historic. This is not just some corny tourist-only place: the Members of Parliament, both Labour and Tory, nip across the bridge to meet, to drink, to wait out the votes, and to use the fantastic health club facilities here. The bridge is the Westminster Bridge, Londons oldest bridge. It was built 1750 and replaced by the present structure in 1862)
This awesome historic hotel is a thirty second lope to the London Eye, Its next to the Saatchi Gallery, itself atop the London Aquarium; and practically on Westminster Bridge. It has the best views, bar none, in London .and Paris, New York, and Mars and Saturn too.
The walls are decorated bi-level with pale vertical stripes below and cream above. The windows are double glazed and you can get fresh air a real luxury in most hotels. In fact you simply must fling open a window on the hour and feel the bong bong bongs of Ben ripple through your solar plexus. No other bell in the world makes a sound so thrilling. The suite bathrooms have marble floors, walls, sink tops. Very luxe. A big bath for two in the executive suites. Entire hotel is spotless impeccable.
Traveler stayed in an Executive Suite which is a one bedroom suite with a separate lounge area. Well worth it. The hotel has only four of these, so book ahead. There also are seven balcony studios each with a private balcony and a panoramic view of London and the Thames. The most impressive accommodation is the Presidential, Westminster Suite. There is one of these. The one-bedroom suite features a separate dining area and kitchenette, a raised lounge area, and, yes, views of Westminster and Big Ben. As we say in London, ooo la-la.
There are 72 (15 twin and 55 double) River View rooms (each looks out on the Thames); 82 Deluxe rooms (21 twin and 61 double) that overlook either Jubilee Gardens or the hotel's inner Courtyard; eight Deluxe Studio Rooms, each with a Separate seating area and a view of the Jubilee Gardens; 25 Big Ben Executive rooms with Big Ben and Parliament views; one Four Poster Studio (with aforementioned bed, seating area and Big Ben and Parliament views); seven Balcony Studios, each with a seating area and private balcony and panoramic views of London and the Thames
The Library lounge, a study in red, is absolutely stunning, gorgeous. You can take tea here. Its full of original statute books. Awesome views. Opposite this room is the Leaders Bar, which is dominated by the color green. The Rotunda lounge is a swoony bar with those views of the river and Ben again. The Noes lobby (as in the noes have it.) is Pretty much what you see when you first enter the lobby.
The Club at County Hall is on two levels and contains a 25 metre pool, saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, masses of workout machines and equipment.
At Executive Level you get a lounge with continental breakfast, hot and cold snacks and cheeses at night, and a place to chill out with the newspapers; but there is no free iNet access up here. it has all the chilly modern anomic charm of an airline club lounge. Nicely, they always have one vegetarian selection in their cocktail hour, be it hot onion rolls or vegetable samosas, and a brilliant selection of fine English cheeses, fruits and pastries
And in the end.
Us: We wonder
what time is check out?
Sniffle. Sob. Omigod. We want to live here forever. Just us, and our best friend Big Ben. Play your cards right, citizens of the world, and you too can sink into an armchair in your dream hotel on the River Thames, watch the boats go by and goggle at the worlds best building: the Tower, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Hotel County Hall
RENAISSANCE CHANCERY COURT
Holborn! Is there a slight accent of sulfur in the air? This area is legal central for London. Law schools and courts abound. And in the midst of this stuffy, scary, arid Monday to Friday beehive of a nabe is the Renaissance Chancery Lane.
The hotel occupies what once was the Pearl Assurance Group building. What an imposing edifice it is. Just the entry a mighty Portland stone arch, a private cobbled plaza and 166-ft high cupola is enough to intimidate mere mortals. And theres the marble green Swedish marble ionic columns, Pavonazzo marble balusters, solid marble Grand Staircase rising seven floors. Altogether seven distinct types of marble were used in the building. Five are simply not to be had commercially these days.
Speaking of cold marble, the hotel fits a little too well here in lawyer infested Central London. Bleak? Well the dreary, buzzless weekend can be kinda nice
the flames of hell, youll also find Fleet Street here. But alas the
tabloids have up and gone. Holborn still is home to Dr. Johnsons House.
The 17th century structure is where Samuel Johnson (a/k/a Dr.
J) wrote and assembled the first English language
dictionary. Feel the vibes, haunting history. And?
And as you come up the stairs from the C Lane Underground station, the
gaudy eye-gouging sight of the red Victorian Prudential Assurance
building (designed by preeminent English architect Alfred Waterhouse,
most associated with Victorian Gothic revival school). If you want to see
a train station on a bad acid trip, Victorian style, see St. Pancras,
which this building reminds one of. So where to eat in the bleak
surrounds? Fortunately theres
Pearl, the hotels marvelous restaurant.
Renaissance Chancery Court London
And Then There Are The Loos.
When you enter County Hall, to get a quick sense of the place; turn to the right and find the Ladies and Gentlemens cloak rooms (WCs to you, mate). These facilities certainly rank with the nicest loos in London. Each entire bathroom is exquisitely wood paneled. Over the sinks and also in the individual stalls youll find framed political cartoons by such renowned cartoonists as JAK, MAC and Mahood. Dont just check out one stall.. Review them all to appreciate the sense of history. Many cartoons were about Ken Livingstone being thrown out when Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council,.The British Museum came to Ken Livingstone and asked him would he rather be stuffed standing on one leg or seated.
SHERATON PARK TOWER
Youve seen this. Youve whizzed by this. Youve flashed by this glamorous looking hotel with its glitzy 101 restaurant and at nigh its blue lit casino sign a million times as youve dashed back and forth to Harrodss. This glitzy blue neon Indeed it is a tower. As you approach you see granite faced circular modern building studded regularly with squares. An homage to geometry? Curvy linear comfort. When this round popi went up (it was built back in 1972 and remodeled in 2002), you can be sure that the Knightsbridge toffs shrieked to have such a modern, tall structure come in. (In October 2002 the Westminster City Council included it on a list of tall buildings that have an adverse impact on views and skyline .) We wish the architectural bluestockings a hearty get over it.
Now many years on there are more modern buildings along Knightsbridge and they havent hurt the areas greatness as a shopping magnet one tiny bit. A devilishly cleverly designed high rise of only 17 stories, the high rise was added to the old building where you enter from the back.
We had a nearly 180-degree panoramic view of London so awesome that we immediately donned a nightgown to enjoy the room. The essence of luxury travel is loving your room so much you never want to leave it except perhaps for the 92nd nip to Harvey Nichols next store and then off to the Harrods. Some visitors to this hotel complain it is too close to Harvey Nicks but you can see by their smiling faces and multiple shopping bags that theyre delighted.
But you wont want to leave your perfect room. Nice TV set. Swirly whirly wood paneling. The bed is set into a curving, softly padded alcove facing huge panoramic bay windows, some of which open to provide fresh air, another. Set neatly, the entire semi circle of the window treatment is all built in and gives you a feeling of utter customized design and comfort, like no other hotel room weve yet seen. There is a shelf behind the shelter for your drinks and your palm pilot or olives or . . Make sure you bring your binoculars.
Heres what we could see from room 1211: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, The Tate Modern, the OXO Tower, the Gherkin, St. Pauls Cathedral, The Post Office Tower, The London Hilton with its Twin Blue Beams Shooting Up, Hyde Park Corner, St James Park, Marble Arch and all of Hyde Park spreading out before you and the serpentine and all the way Bayswater Road up to well past Nottinghill Gate and beyond.
You will also the see the beautiful buildings of Knightsbridge with all their chimney pots clustered on the rooftops and feel as if you were waiting for Peter Pan to come to take you away. But when he comes you wont go. Ladies and gentlemen this is one hell of a room, beware, if you stay at the Sheraton Park Tower you ay cancel all your theater plans; for what could surpass the magical architectural splendor seen from one of its swankiest grandest neighborhoods. And there is nothing better in London to see than London, Birdseye view. The catbird seat. Watch flying pigeons below us. Everything is graceful and a little extra classy,
The bathroom has a separate bathtub and walk in shower, all done in gray marble.. Glassware for the fully stocked mini bar, magnifying mirror for applying your maciage or disassembling your beard. Blunted edges so youll never walk into everything. Everything is round or curved or polished, your room fits right in. And all the extra luxuries robes slippers.
Curved buildings create their own particular design challenges and design solutions. The interior design is so restful and comfy. The curved alcove is padded acoustically so if youre coming here for a hot love affair no one will hear you. Light switches are controlled from your bed so that overhead lights and dimmer can be switched individually. If someone is an insomniac the other wont be bothered.
Of course theres a bar and a place to have tea and a little fitness center. If you want a spa treatment or massage, they will send somebody to your room. Its the only way to do it. This is Knightsbridge and you might as well be Lady Muck.
Some fantastic Lebanese restaurants and delis (for sneaking a felafels or two, delights up to your room).
Great beds, these. Youll need a great bed after Virgins surprising new economy Iron Maiden, Procrustian cramped seating---that and a chiropractor, With fewer Americans flying since September 11th, we realise that many flight services have had to be compacted: Virgin often have deployed the smaller planes in their fleet. But these days Virgins economy seats hurt you almost as much as that much hyped, much despised Singapore Airlines. Try for the bulkhead seats.
Were fond of this small, immaculate hotel, tucked just round the corner from the tube in High St Ken, a neighbourhood that women especially like, just because its so pretty, not at all masculine or grubby like so many of Londons hotel neighborhoods. With coffee bars, supermarkets, Marks and Spencers, Smiths and buses to Knightsbridge shopping, its convenient but gentle.
This Posthouse is a modest and modern hotel: we keep returning here because despite the tiny size of the rooms, they balance the smallish hotel room with impeccably built in features, such making your own tea service, niches for the hair dryer, etc. Everything works and fits pleasingly. This is a cushy little space capsule.
The only snag is the bathroom light problem. When you travel a lot, it is a comfort to have some way to remember where you are when you are sleepily shuffling to the loo. Malheureusement, the bathroom light here hits you right in the eyeball as you lie abed, even if you keep the loo door open even a crack. Otherwise, they have thought of everything well, everything but that blasted light.
And we re wild about the hotels Spirit Health Club, and wonderful, wonderful swimming pool, free to guests. (open 6:30 am to 10 pm most days). The sauna hot as hell, the pool is sparkling and warm. The steam room is large, fabulous and fragrant with lung clearing herbs. Its blessed with an excellent staff, and you can sneak to the health club direct from your room via the lift without hassles. All in all, this is the best deal we found in London. TIP: If youre doing an extended London stay, you might want to know about this short term Spriti Health Club memberships. The off peak single rate for three months is £181 as of this writing---unbelievable value!
Theres more than one restaurant in the hotel, too. and if youre too tired to go out searching for curries, they do serve up a few...though how scrumptious they are, must wait for our review, which is imminent.
Wrights Lane Kensington W8 5 SP
RADISSON EDWARDIAN MOUNTBATTEN HOTEL
Look, the bellman said, the moon is right over the Seven Dials.
The bellman was looking through the window of the fifth floor suite in the Radisson Edwardian Mountbatten Hotel. And bellman was right. Tucked away in Covent Garden, this quiet four-star deluxe hotel looks out on the bright lights of the West End theaters. The silver half-moon looked quite at home. If you look beyond the chimneys and rooftops that evoke Peter Pan, you can see the London Eye wheeling in the distance, guarding the legendary, looping. Thames. This enormous Ferris wheel, which was erected to celebrate Londons Millennium celebrations, smiles and flashes at nearby Big Ben with bluish blinks.
Back to the Seven Dials. Stories abound as to how this London landmark got its name. Currently, we like the one that notes that the seven catty-corner corners which meet have buildings that are blessed with clocks. It is an absolute symphony of roman numerals. In addition there is that Seven Dials pillar which pays its respects to the seven dials. It too is a time piece, at least during the few hours of daylight allowed by Londons latitude 51N31.
In order to understand the Mountbatten (if understanding hotels is part of how you process the world) it helps to understand the Radisson Edwardian Hotels. The privately-owned chain consists of 10 UK hotels (nine in London, one at Heathrow Airport) and apparently more on the way. Next to open will be hotels in Birmingham and Manchester. The Birmingham property, the Baskerville House is set to open in the fall of 2003. as 221-room luxury hotel.
The owner, the tycoon with good taste Jasminder Singh, is an accountant by training; he has been a London hotelier since 1977. The chains name suggests a slavish desire to reproduce an anatomically correct replica of the Edwardian era. This proves not to be the case: the prevailing philosophy is much more intelligent. The idea is to capture and maintain the spirit of that era specifically an atmosphere of luxury and opulence while happily using the best contemporary design ideas. Calm colors, sometimes joyfully startling shapes and materials blend throughout the Mountbatten.
And how suite the sitting room is: plump pillows and a comfy sofa, upholstered in a bang-on shade of Edwardian chartreuse the rich lustre of the angled walls in a lovely, cosseting cerulean blue huge windows which actually open and look out in different directions George Melly on the Bose wave radio who couldnt get mellow here, very fast? We did.
Room service? Yes, please. The eats: eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomato, yogurt, fruit, juice, toast and tea. We liked snorking up the full English breakfasts --- we prefer vegetarian style --- room service shoots up to the rooms. We sat at the lovely antique table in the angled niche between two windows and engaged in commentary and delighted speculation about the people milling about below, off to work in Covent Garden.
And the well-appointed bedroom was not simply the obligatory other room but a soft
haven made for sleeping and lounging.
Staff at the Mountbatten were extremely helpful and friendly and professional. Not that we had many problems to pose to them.
When staying at the Mountbatten, dont forget to set your dial for a drink at the hotels popular bar, The Dial An assortment of comfortable sofas, easy chairs and the posture-flattering, comfortable straight back chairs invite you to sit down. Bold white inch-thick candles lend a bit of atmosphere. Floor to ceiling windows face the street and look out at theater district night life. Who are those people in dress attire? Oh theyre coming in here. The Dials smart location, connection to the Mountbatten and inviting décor bring a highly democratic but sedate bunch to the joint. You have your actors and luvvies and hangers-on who have just strutted and sweated their hour or so on stage as well as young (but old enough to drink) men and women on dates as well as locals out for a breath of air, diplomats, industrialists, and yes tourists from all over the world, all mixing in.
The Dial is a wonderful spot from which to view the theatrical streets.
Verdict: Very comfy, great nabe, extremely nice. Would definitely do it again.
20 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden London, WC2 9HD England
RADISSON EDWARDIAN KENILWORTH HOTEL
The Kenilworth, located in the Bloomsbury section, is another design jewel in the Edwardian Radisson collection. Its only a block or so away from the British Museum, and not far from the Mountbatten, if you got hooked on pulling actors or actresses at the Dial bar. (And while the district is steeped in atmosphere and tradition, the Kenilworth rooms manage to be both really modern and comfortable. .
Just about everything has a designer label or at least designer mind behind it. A dropped ceiling with recessed lights transforms a grey wall to a subtle and nuanced (like Brendan Frasers performance) setting. The persistent and ubiquitous touches do not scream. They delight, charm and give comfort: leather covered cubical night stands, Philip Starck faucets, glass desks in some rooms. Cheery wood desks in others.
We are told that in course of redoing the place a few years ago, the design team led by Michael Attenborough and Mrs. Singh actively sought input from the staff. For example, housekeepers explained how duvets make the make the task of making the bed just right smarter, quicker, easier.
Whatever the journey, the beauty of it is that you find yourself staying in an environment that is modern without being edgily intimidating. Creative original art from around the world seems to be everywhere in the lobby, the rooms, the restaurants, the corridors. You can work calmly and productively or you can just relax and hang out.
97 Great Russell Street London, WC1B 3BL England
ATHENAEUM HOTEL AND APARTMENTS
The Athenaeum is a magnet for visiting film and theatre stars. Recent guests have included John Malkovitch, Samuel Jackson, Simply Red, Dionne Warwick, Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, Linda Gray, Michael Douglas and Larry Hagman. Part of the Hollywood hangout mystique is certainly because the J. Arthur Rank Organization once owned the property. Two other factors are probably more important. First of all, the Athenaeum delivers service. Staffers quote executive director Sally Bulloch when she says The answer to every question is yes.. Also it offers a comfortable and comforting sense of privacy that whispers discretion. Even to the extent of offering the use of secret hallways that afford private entree and egress for the celeb who does not wish to be haunted by paparazzi. This privacy was offered to Denis and Margaret Thatcher when they dallied in the Athenaeum 9th floor 750 pound a night penthouse for 9 weeks. They chose instead to eat in the public areas and walk through the front door and the Brits loved it.
Travelers USA Notebook stayed in an apartment. These are special and spacious and are round the corner from the main hotel building. The apartments are townhouse suites, two per floor, on Down Street, the side street adjoining the hotel proper. (Quite proper, as a matter of fact. This is Mayfair after all.). Each suite has an oversized living room; ample bedroom; contemporary dark green, tiled kitchen (complete with stove, oven, refrigerator, sink, dishes, tableware, washer dryer combination but alas, no microwave) and a lovely loo. Theres ample closet space. But whats with the twin beds in the bedrooms? They were tucked in so smartly that it was hard to kick free and play footsie footsie. It made us respect Russell Crowe more, but still. There are twin beds in so many of the As rooms, pushed together to make one large bed, that we warn you: if you are a big shot and planning a big juicy secret louche love affair, please phone ahead so the staff can put in a queen size for your visit, or its twins for you, duckies!
The central theme of our apartments décor might be called patterns. Every surface, fabric, object bears a discernable pattern powerfully striped green, maroon and cream curtains; beige wallpaper showing regalia separated diamonds, tan and brown floral carpet; bright Princess Anne red rose in a green diamond wreath on an ivory background straight back chairs, rose on burgundy sofa and arm chair red and gold orchids on forest green background chairs. The plush furniture has fringes and the straight backs have studs.
Now heres the thing. One of us loved the apartment and one of us hated it. One of us found solace in the plush, traditional décor. The other didnt -- if we are to attach any credence to the description, arsenic tones from 1910 and poison and pus greens and brown fringed Philadelphia unsuccessful whorehouse draperies. (A possible exception to the general décor doldrums might be apartment #13 with its black ceilings and leopard upholstery. Known as the Wild Room, it is often used by privacy seekers.) Admittedly there was a bit of discombobulation with trying to work out the tricky television remote controls, coded washer/dryer and stove instructions that didnt help. And then there were the visible outlets for old English electrical plugs that no longer existed and the hard to find outlets for the more popular plugs of the day. But after a few days crawling around on all fours, looking for the American outlet, which, it is claimed, is in every room, and giving up, it did all seem quite mellow. After all, it is a lovely feeling to have ones own apartment in Londons Mayfair, and to have an oven in which to cook all those delicious Marks and Spencers frozen meals we often long to try as tourists but cannot bring home on the airplane. There is even a box of laundry powder for you by the washer. To have a discreet staff bring you room service if you are promoting a book and having a series of interviewers traipsing in and out, or having a little orgy---well, as Edward R. Murrow would say,This---is London.
The Athenaeum is the perfect spot to stay if youre into Tory glory and if extreme privacy does not feel like isolation. Whether a guest or not, do drop in on the clubby intimate Whisky Bar. Its menu of at least 100 different single malts is said to be the largest selection of whiskies in London. The barkeep pours with a lovely sense of solemn ceremony.
116 Piccadilly, London W.1 J 7BJ
|For what to do and see and where to get great vegetarian meals in London, click here.||For what to do and see and where to get great vegetarian meals in London, click here.|
|For what to do and see and where to get great vegetarian meals in London, click here.|
For Part 2 --what to do and see and where to get great vegetarian meals in London --click here.