London Redux

 

A Parkview Suite
A Parkview Suite at the Athenaeum has tripleglazed windows overlooking Green Park.

 

Once written off as relics, slow to change with the times, The Savoy and The Athenaeum are climbing their way back to their rightful place at the forefront of London’s luxury hotels. Both hotels are (or will be, in the case of The Savoy, which now opens in spring 2010) fresh-faced versions of their classic selves.

The Athenaeum’s $11 million makeover is very much an inside/out job. All of the hotel’s 111 guest rooms, 12 suites (bookable on the GDS code, YX) and public areas have been re-imagined by Martin Hulbert, design director of Fox Linton Associates, and a new vertical garden perches outside of the building, lending a fresh look to the 1950s-style structure. The 34 apartments in the Victorian townhouse abutting the hotel on its side street were redesigned prior to the Hulbert restoration.

We saw the process ourselves in stages. First, Hulbert, who is very keen on textures, reworked the public spaces—the famous tea lounge, the bar, the lobby and the restaurant, now simply renamed The Restaurant and helmed by veteran chef David Marshall. The Restaurant spotlights British Classic cuisine (think rib-eye steak, lamb) along with more healthy alternatives like Dover sole.

Insider Tip: There are three private dining rooms available for small groups on the first floor. The whiskey bar, adjacent to the restaurant, stocks 270 single-malt whiskies, many of which are discontinued and can’t be found elsewhere. Hint: Contact Food and Beverage Control Manager Kadir Ipek (ipekk@athenaeumhotel.com; 011-44-207-499-3464) to reserve bottles for guests or even to have bottles shipped to their homes pre- or post visit. The sleek, sophisticated feel in the lobby, tea room and restaurant is paired with warmth and comfort; we loved the nod to the Pearly King and Queen of Cockney fame, brought to life by the pearl-button pattern behind the front desk.

Next, Hulbert took on the guest rooms—a daunting task, given the structural restrictions of some of the units. Hulbert has expanded the space of the Junior Suite, for example, with new floor-to-ceiling windows and short non-projecting balconies. Guests will appreciate the strategic use of mirrors and space-oriented furniture. The result, in the case of the Junior Suite, is a room which feels more than spacious enough for two adults with luggage and laptops in tow.

Bathrooms have also been expanded and luxury travel advisors can now book guests into the Junior Suites knowing the spacious walk-in power showers and deep tubs will appeal to luxury clientele. We also love the value of the dip-in minibar, which opens like a giant drawer and whose sodas and snacks are included in the room rates.

Note: Rooms now include flat-screen plasma TVs fitted at a perfect height for in-bed viewing and new custom-designed king-size mattresses that are of, or beyond, the Heavenly Bed standard set by Westin several years ago. Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations complete the techno-friendly room profile.

Luxury travel advisors can contact General Manager Jonathan Critchard (critchardj@athenaeum.com; 011-44-207-499-3464), who recommends The Athenaeum’s new Penthouse Suite on the 10th floor as the proverbial “room with a view.” The balcony is the jewel in this crown and boasts picture-postcard views of the London Eye, Parliament and Buckingham Palace. The suite has three bedrooms, a dining room and two bathrooms, one of which sports a Jacuzzi and wide-screen TV.

Insider Tip: If two separate suites are desired, a moveable dividing wall carves out mini-suites with a bathroom for each guest group. Contact Sales Manager Stephen Fox (hotel.comengledowl@athenaeumhotel.com), both at 011-44-207-499-3464, for special requests. The hotel has a small hair salon, gym and Jacuzzi where Aromatherapy Associates spa treatments can be had, but we recommend booking in-room treatments, which can be done by e-mailing spa@athenaeumhotel.com or by contacting Fox or Engledow.foxs@athenaeum) or Lorraine Engledow (

Spruced Up Savoy

Nearby, at The Savoy, work continues on the $164 million makeover begun by Fairmont and funded by Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Company. Plans are to reopen next spring.

Pierre-Yves Rochon, responsible for restoring the Four Seasons Hotel George V a few years ago, is heading the team doing the restoration. Luxury Travel Advisor visited Rochon in his Paris studio at that time. He stressed the importance of maintaining the character of a property.

All of  The Savoy’s 268 rooms will be bookable on the GDS. Director of Sales and Marketing Julian Haddon (julian.haddon@fairmont.com; 011-44-207-420-2553) notes that the somewhat confusing mixture of Art Deco and Edwardian design in the past will now have clearer boundaries.

Insider Tip: Guests enamored by the Edwardian look should book riverside; clients who prefer the classic Art Deco design should book the Strand side. The hotel is not yet accepting bookings, but questions can be directed to Haddon, who tells us that luxury travel advisors will be excited to see the restoration of this iconic landmark.

Advisor Insight:

Dan Beschloss, executive director at Valerie Wilson Travel, loves The Athenaeum for its location. “It’s right down the street from Piccadilly Circus,” he says. “And a short walk from Knightsbridge. It’s near everything a tourist wants to see.

“The hotel is very responsive to travel advisors’ needs. In terms of size, there’s more coziness than at other luxury properties. The service is very personal. If you’re a repeat customer, they will remember your name and even what you drank at the bar the last time you were there!”

With regard to The Savoy, “We’re anxious to hear about the progress, what the design will be and what market we will look to put there,” Beschloss says. “We know who their competitive set is going to be, but we need more information. London has many luxury hotels, so competition is fierce. But The Savoy is an unknown entity and we don’t know [yet] where it will fit in.” 

 

The Savoy
The Savoy is set for a spring 2010 re-debut courtesy of famed designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

 

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