Legendary London Hospitality

How many hotels in the world?
Guess?
We could only guess too.
Tens of thousands? Millions?
From his dawn, man has nightly needed to lay his head, and for thousands of years, hoteliers by whatever name have provided such a service.
Today, 1000 thread cotton sheets have replaced animal hide, and skies skeined with jet trails have ensured the modern hotel is a hugely important part of our lives; read the passionate praise and putdowns on TripAdvisor and Agoda.

The Athanaeum London Lounge
The Lounge. A place to tell your stories.

We all have our favourites. No-one can be absolutely right or wrong.
But some establishments do stand out.
Maybe it’s their size, height, number of rooms. Their remoteness. Beauty of location. Magnificence of appointments. Would you be influenced by previous guests? Famous ones?
But we all know what we like. Experienced traveller or first timer: we want to be looked after.
Surprisingly, despite the well meaning efforts of the majority of staff all round the world, that does narrow it down a bit. Infrastructure and management skills are not universally allocated.
The visitor to London, from the far Antipodes or the Home Counties, has a splendid choice. Narrow it down to Mayfair and there is still a spread of delights.
For ourselves, respectful of tradition but never old-fashioned, demanding of modern technology, and delighting in the quirkiness of personality, we can’t stroll down past Green Park without checking in to the Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments.

Greenery on top – the vertical gardens by Patrick Blanc

Number 116 Piccadilly started life in 1850 as Hope House built as a townhouse for the 6th Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham-Clinton. The building was redeveloped as apartments in the 1930s. In the 70s the mighty Rank Organisation turned them into the Athenaeum Hotel.
Rank? Yes, movies. Therefore movie stars.

A glittering parade from Hollywood used it as their London base or dropped in for sustenance. Lauren Becall, Peggy Lee, Marlon Brando, Liza Minelli, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg.

Liz Taylor took up residence while filming in London. In the 80s it was reported the glitter of stars in the Athenaeum bar outshone the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills.
On a recent visit, there was a mingling of the unmistakable black T-shirts and tats of hard rockers from the USA with the tweed and polite smiles of closer county cousins. It is not believed either party trashed their suites.

So how did magic become part of this hotel? A telling quote from the 70s from then manager Gordon Campbell Gray explains the approach that is still maintained: “The Athenaeum wasn’t anything special, a perfectly fine hotel, but it was the people who made it … a wonderful team and it was beautifully run, and a little eccentric. People stayed with us who would normally be at The Dorchester, Ritz and Claridge’s because of its efficiency and Sally.”
Sally?

Sally Bulloch
Sally

The lovely but late Sally Bulloch was for twenty years the PR manager, hostess and liberating life force of the hotel. A tireless legend in her own lifetime Sally befriended everyone. She charmed people to want to stay with her. And the hotel backed her every inch. One day she was chatting to her doorman, an Australian, who noticed a group booking into the hotel next door. He recognized them as a film crew from Sydney’s Channel 9. Sally moved swiftly to talk to them and within minutes had invited the thirsty Aussies in for a drink. The TV station’s London business soon moved permanently to her hotel.

 

A legendary guest: Jumpin’ Jack Flash

In the corridors of today hang many photos of her friends over the years. What a display! That’s Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins, Margaret Thatcher, on and on.
Sally is gone but her enthusiastic and caring spirit lives on, perhaps in a slightly quieter mode.
So what can you expect today?
Here is the style and elegance of a decent country home but this is proper modern Mayfair. 164 rooms. Spa. Health Club.

Comfort and cheerfulness all round. The rooms, public and private, are traditional but not chintzy. Service is respectful, but with a joke and a smile. Never stuffy British. Little touches stay in the mind. The honeycomb at breakfast is from a named beekeeper in a park not far away. The hotel is regularly featured in the Top 500 in the world. It rates as one of the Top in London for Afternoon Tea

Never stuffy British. Little touches stay in the mind. The honeycomb at breakfast is from a named beekeeper in a park not far away. The hotel is regularly featured in the Top 500 in the world. It rates as one of the Top in London for Afternoon Tea.

But is it where you want to be? In spite of London’s trendy move towards the east, Mayfair is still the Number One property on the board. Many of the capital’s most popular landmarks are within walking distance. And one of the world’s great urban train systems, the Tube (Green Park station is just over the road) takes you easily to the rest.

Arthur the Athanaeum Bear
Take Me Home. Arthur the Athanaeum Bear is waiting for you in the foyer or your room.

Bring the kids? Oh yes please! They will be treated as proper guests with their own bathrobes and an Xbox in the room, if they prefer that to the view over the Park towards Buckingham Palace. They could fall in love with Arthur the Bear, on sale from your room or the big basket in the foyer.

Every Malt you ever heard of and then some

At the adult end of the scale is whisky. The Athenaeum can show you one of the biggest displays of Scotch in any city. Luxury blends you know and single malts from dozens of distilleries you may not have heard of. A tasting is easily arranged, from the gentler Speysides to the smokey peaty Islays. Your host can guide you through with a board of complimentary British cheeses

One you may not have seen – The Athanaeum Blend

 

For your home in London, pop in to http://www.athenaeumhotel.com

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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