HomeTravelA new wave of hotels is upsetting London’s balance of power
A new wave of hotels is upsetting London’s balance of power
September 26, 2023
Brits may be reserved, but the best hotels of London built their reps on boldface names.
Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe all stayed at the suave Savoy, where Fred Astaire once tapped on the rooftop. Party animals like Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger and Whitney Houston sucked Champagne at Claridge’s.
The ghosts of Victorian writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker still haunt Brown’s.
Princess Diana lounged at the Langham. Edward VII, Charles de Gaulle and Princess Grace of Monaco canoodled at the Connaught — though not all together! However, David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop glammed it up à trois at the Dorchester.
And, the renowned Ritz — the hotel that defined luxury and high-society hobnobbing — paired toffs and totties, even Rita Hayworth and the Aga Khan.
Now, a batch of haute hotels are giving the old guard class anxiety. Can they keep a stiff upper lip?
On the edge of Piccadilly, overlooking the Wellington Arch, the Peninsula London opened its doors last week.
Known for its grande dame Hong Kong flagship, a new Peninsula doesn’t open every day. But this was a big year for the 157-year old Asia-centric brand.
Decades in the making, the newly built 190-room hotel replaces 1960s commercial buildings with a mid-rise, modern concrete structure inspired by an Italian Renaissance palazzo courtesy of Hopkins Architects. Almost surprisingly, it blends.
Inside, things are a little less understated with leather daddy designer supreme Peter Marino directing the show. A glittery white colonnade forms a central hub for lobby activities and tea. Pops of colored stone, wall murals and palms add color. The center of the hotel is a central English garden with cascading ivy, wisteria vines and 120-year-old Japanese maples by landscape designer, Enzo Enea.
Still, nothing tops Brooklands, the hotel’s signature rooftop restaurant, headed by Michelin-starred chef Claude Bosi of Bibendum fame.
Named for the airfield and historic car racetrack, now a motoring and aviation museum, Archer Humphryes architects whooped it up in honoring British aviation and automotive history: a 50-foot long model of the Concorde hangs near a real British Vickers airplane wing; and guests are whisked from Brooklands’ dedicated ground-floor lobby, where an actual Concorde nose (built as a spare, but never used) hangs above a 1926 world speed record-setting Napier Railton, in elevators emulating hot air balloon baskets whisk diners to the eighth floor dining wonder (from $1,300 per night).
If that wasn’t enough to consternate the old lords of lodging, an equally ambitious hotel opens next week and anyone with an even passing interest in the Second World War will know its name: the Old War Office (OWO).
Occupying a full trapezoidal block in Whitehall, the sprawling Baroque 1906-built icon is now a Raffles. Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Ian Fleming toiled here (it’s since been featured in five James Bond films). Critical moments in British and world history were plotted and executed from within its walls.
Its appropriate that Raffles — known for its British colonial-style Singapore icon preferred by expats of yore and today — oversaw the six-year conversion of the building that preserved everything from historic telephone lines to the original logo from the Old War Office.
The top-to-toe restoration of the formerly fusty behemoth, polished up its hand-laid mosaic floors, oak paneling, magnificent chandeliers and dramatic marble entryway staircase. It also carved out 120 rooms and suites, a 600-person ballroom and London’s first ever Guerlain-brand spa (from $1,390 per night).
“London is amongst the most sought-after destinations in the world at the moment,” O’Hare said. “It’s position at the center of arts, culture, business and government makes it an obvious and very attractive proposition for the hospitality industry.”
It doesn’t stop there. By the end of the year, the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, a demure boutique property with 50 guest rooms and suites, an expansive spa, an indoor 82-foot swimming pool and a private roof terrace bar will emerge on Hanover Square, joining the larger, 181-room, older-but-recently renovated Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (from $1,100 per night).
Last week, Tao Group Hospitality partnered on the opening of the BoTree, north of Oxford Street in Marylebone. It’s aiming for younger party people with 199 rooms and party-scene mainstay Lavo Ristorante making its London debut (from $832 per night).
But this is certainly not the first wave of hotels threatening to dethrone the aristocracy. Kate Nicholls, chief executive at UKHospitality, an independent tourism trade company, says there’s no need for concern — there are plenty of guests to go around.
“American tourists, who are capitalizing on a favorable exchange rate,” Nicholls said. “London has always been at the top of the luxury tourism market and that clearly remains the case.”
Still, if the peerage of London hospitality is shaken, it’s being stirred into action.
The Dorchester re-opened this year after a redesign of the hotel’s elegant entrance, the sumptuous Promenade restaurant, glamorous James Bond-inspired Vesper Bar, and all guest rooms and suites. The newly added Cake & Flowers boutique — pairing floral displays with colorful cakes and chocolates — completes the first stage of the 1931-birthed hotel’s largest renovation since the 1980s (from $1,080 per night).
The nearby Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane’s opened multi-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno’s Pavyllon restaurant, the French chef’s first venture in London (from $1,390 per night).
Last year, a massive renovation reimagined Claridge’s hallowed Art Deco-influenced halls with the new signature restaurant, a quiet corner bar and five-story mega-basement with a glam swimming pool. Behold the monocle-popping bikini clad influencers (from $945 per night).
Meanwhile, London’s oldest hotel, Brown’s has a new mixology program and a new suite designed by Sir Paul Smith, the renowned tailor (from $1,011 per night; Paul Smith Suite from $6,940). “We are constantly looking for new creative ways to stay ahead of the curve,” said Stuart Shaw, Brown’s marketing director.
Claridge’s hotel manager Jim Lyons is also unfazed by the fresh competition: “We are always excited to welcome new energy to the capital,” he said. “I think the introduction of new hotels continues to encourage and spark innovation. We see the openings as an opportunity that creates an added buzz around London.”
— Linda Laban
In July, US-based 1 Hotel Group launched London’s very first sustainable luxury hotel in Mayfair across from Green Park. So, naturally, green is the theme here.
From the garden trellises on the exterior walls to the 200 species of plants on display throughout the 181-room Mayfair, what was once a Holiday Inn is now something truly alive.
The reception desk was created from one naturally felled piece of wood from Sussex and a leafy chandelier created by artist Patrick Nadeau from air plants, alongside sliding rattan panels — a nod to the picnic baskets used in the nearby park.
Opting for reconstruction over new construction, 80% of the existing structure was repurposed to minimize adverse environmental impact. Sustainably sourced and recycled materials were used throughout, including reclaimed metal floor tiles and solar panels, while each bedroom features living moss walls and timber flooring crafted from fallen British Oak trees.
The bathrooms also boast Welsh slate and refillable toiletries from British sustainable brand Bamford, while sensors ensure electricity isn’t wasted by turning off both the lights and air-conditioning.
Other eco-friendly features include wooden — rather than plastic — keycards, guestroom glassware made of used and re-purposed glass and hangers made from recycled materials.
And instead of wasteful bottled drinking water, there’s a filtered water tap in every room.
Even more of the art is eco-conscious, including “Flow,” by marine-plastic artist Steve McPherson, and Kate McGwire’s feather installation atop the bar counter at Dover Yard, as well as Herbert Golser’s “1” sign, made from wood.
Encouraging guests to explore the city emission-free, the Audi e-tron, the official Electronic Vehicle of 1 Hotels, is available daily for guests to enjoy.
And it’s not just what you see — but also what you taste.
The hotel boasts the restaurant Dovetail, run by two-Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers, where the menu is full of seasonal produce (as well as a Knickerbocker Glory sundae trolley).
There’s also a cool cocktail bar — Neighbours — that serves as a daytime cafe and evening bar with a central communal table crafted from raw timber.
Not least, the hotel also features a bespoke fitness center and Bamford Wellness Spa.