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In case you hadn’t noticed, the world’s biggest sporting event is coming to London this summer. By the time the Olympics arrive, over £11bn will have been invested in making the city sparkle, and among the biggest spenders are its hotels, who are vying for the attentions of an estimated 450,000 staying visitors. The London hotel scene has never looked more vibrant. But what does this mean for event organisers? For a start, there’s a crop of new hotels springing up, from established luxury chains such as Four Seasons and InterContinental, to upscale operators Thompson Hotels and ME by Melia, who are dipping their boutique toes into London’s waters for the first time. Then there’s the refurbished meeting rooms and new and improved event spaces in existing properties, such as Lancaster London and The Grosvenor Hotel. ‘Though we would have refurbished with or without the Olympics, it was definitely the catalyst in making the project start and finish on time,’ says Michael Parker, general manager at the Grosvenor. It’s a sentiment that’s echoed throughout the industry. And, with a halo effect that will reverberate for years to come, the London hotel industry is positively booming. Here’s our round-up of the latest developments and what lies in store.
Ahead of the game In a year when all eyes are on London, it’s no surprise that some of the capital’s top hotels timed their latest refurbishment plans very carefully, ensuring the paint was dry long before the Olympic flame was lit. Park Lane princess The Dorchester put the finishing touches to its Ballroom Suite last October. The space now packs the latest technology (an integrated audio system, remote-controlled spotlighting on any table configuration) but also recalls the hotel’s glittering past (three large crystal chandeliers restored to the ceiling domes, marble floors in the entrance hall). The Ballroom seats up to 500 and now also offers à la carte banqueting, a crowd-pleasing offering you’ll also find at the Lancaster London, Marriott Grosvenor Square and The Savoy (see Silver Service, overleaf). The eco-friendly Lancaster London has been almost as busy as its half a million rooftop honey bees, with a £11.5m refurbishment that has ramped up the hotel’s vast kitchens and given the Nine Kings Suite and Westbourne Suite a dramatic makeover. The hotel has also introduced the innovative Senses Room, which creates a ‘test-drive’ of an event, replicating not just the menu but the lighting, decor and colour schemes, for up to 10 people in a glass-fronted room overlooking the kitchen. Across Hyde Park, another events heavyweight has just had a makeover. At the Royal Garden Hotel, the refurbished Palace Suites now form a dedicated conference floor with a pillar-free principle event space holding up to 550. It’s complemented by a large pre-function area and four syndicate rooms. The exclusivity element, together with rooms that have a multitude of uses and set-ups – as well as some top-notch catering – is already proving popular with event bookers. The beginning of the year also marked the end of Guoman’s 18-month refurbishment of The Grosvenor Hotel. What was a rather dilapidated railway hotel has now been restored (in consultation with English Heritage) to its former Victorian glory, resplendent with gold leaf and original marble pillars. Nine new meeting rooms have been created, with the jewel-in-the-crown Orient Suite holding up to 150 under its elegantly restored ceilings. Restored Victoriana also abounds at the four-star St Ermin’s Hotel which has just completed a £30m renovation project, with Grade II-listed interiors positively groaning with original rococo plasterwork and art nouveau styling. There are 15 meeting rooms, and the grandest of these is the Crystal Ballroom, holding dinners for 120. The smaller Cloisters Suite, seating 39 guests at one table, is a more subdued alternative.
Right here, right now No less than five new hotels are launching themselves onto the market before the Olympics circus rolls into town. Thompson Hotels’ Belgraves has already stolen a march by opening in February. Its rooftop Cigarden, attached to Mark’s Bar and accommodating 25, is a stylish backdrop for cocktails and canapés (and with an extensive cigar menu, smokers feel right at home). Hotels have certainly cottoned onto the fact that alfresco space is fast becoming a sought-after commodity in the corporate entertainment market. Hence, ME London, opening in July courtesy of the trend-setting Spanish hotel chain ME by Melia, will boast an impressive wraparound roof terrace designed by Foster & Partners, holding up to 140. Also on offer for groups of up to 20 will be a stunning two-storey suite that will have its own entrance to the terrace. Further east, near Liverpool Street station, a convenient transport hub for the Olympic park, D&D London is launching South Place Hotel in the same month, with an enticing rooftop restaurant and terrace on the seventh floor. And at the new Hilton London Wembley, directly opposite the stadium, guests can look down on the hustle and bustle of Olympic football-goers from the comfort of the Sky Bar and Roof Terrace every afternoon. There’s no shortage of private screening rooms dotted about either. ME London will even have a 3D one, while the Bulgari Hotel, which opened in May, has one with disabled access, seating 47. Both boast cinema-quality sound.
Back to the Future The recent trend for retro styling in bars and restaurants has started to infiltrate the hotel market too. The fifth hotel to open this summer, The Ampersand, takes a refreshingly quirky approach, with curiosity cabinets inspired by the local South Ken museums flanking the walls of two private dining rooms, The Wine Room (seating 10) and The Games Room (seating 16). The hotel even employs a Victorian coffee press to make its brews. In hotel design as in fashion, the art deco era is proving particularly popular. The Savoy recently turned its Beaufort Bar into a Prohibition speakeasy, with cocktails poured from teapots and Champagne bottles hidden in paper bags. Coco Chanel’s 1920s Parisian apartment was the inspiration behind the glossy decor in the Sofitel St James bar and restaurant The Balcon, where a snug private dining room seats 16. And thanks to über-designer Thierry Despont, you would never guess that The Dorchester Collection’s 45 Park Lane started life as a 1960s office block, so authentic is the art deco styling (even the 10-seater media room, for private screenings, oozes 1930s glamour).
Finally, one of the hotels that’s closest to the Olympic Park, the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, has masterfully combined art deco with Edwardian elements throughout its idiosyncratic meeting spaces and bedrooms. Hotel guests also enjoy a visit from the Town Hall Tea Lady, who wheels her drinks trolley from room to room mixing bespoke pre-dinner martinis.
The Dorchester Park Lane, W1, tel: 020 7319 7071, squaremeal.co.uk/dorchester
Lancaster London Lancaster Terrace, W2, tel: 020 7262 6737
Royal Garden Hotel 2-24 Kensington High Street, W8, tel: 020 7937 8000, squaremeal.co.uk/royalgarden
The Grosvenor 101 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1, tel: 0871 376 9038
St Ermin’s Hotel Caxton Street, SW1,tel: 020 7227 7718
Marriott Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, W1 tel: 020 7493 1232, squaremeal.co.uk/m-grosvenor
Belgraves 20 Chesham Place, SW1 tel: 020 7858 0100
ME London 336-337 Strand, WC2 tel: 0808 234 1953
South Place Hotel 3 South Place, EC2 tel: 020 3503 0000
Hilton London Wembley Lakeside Way, HA9, tel: 020 7616 6556
Bulgari Hotel 171 Knightsbridge, SW7 tel: 020 7151 1010
The Ampersand 10 Harrington Rd, SW7 tel: 020 7589 5895
The Savoy Strand, WC2 tel: 020 7836 4343 squaremeal.co.uk/savoy
Sofitel St James 6 Waterloo Place, SW1 tel: 020 7747 2200 squaremeal.co.uk/sofitel-stjames
45 Park Lane 45 Park Lane, W1 tel: 020 7493 4545 squaremeal.co.uk/45pl
Town Hall Hotel Patriot Square, E2 tel: 020 7871 0460 squaremeal.co.uk/townhall
Former haunt of bohemians and intellectuals, the Regent Street stalwart will relaunch as a 159-bedroom luxury hotel, with a big name chef presiding over the Grill Room and the neo-classical Pompadour Suite holding up to 110 for cocktails, plus four other meeting rooms.
tel: 020 8253 6513
The Jazz Room at this 36-suite Knightsbridge hotel will hold up to 40 for parties and the penthouse will have a boardroom for eight.
tel: 020 7235 3535
The hotel’s location on Olympic Way will prove somewhat obsolete come October (it had planned to open pre-Games) but it is forging ahead nevertheless, with 140sq m of conference space.
tel: 0844 847 6747
With a New Scotland Yard location, this former hospital will have a grand ballroom, divisible into three spaces, eight state-of-the-art meeting rooms and a PDR in the main restaurant.
tel: 020 3301 8080
The first London hotel in Ian Schrager and Marriott International’s boutique chain opens in 2013, in the former Berners Hotel. No details of the event space as yet, but it’s sure to be hip.
Asia Pacific’s leading luxury hotel group will be moving into the Shard in the second quarter of next year, touted as London’s first new-build five-star in over a decade. Occupying floors 34 to 52, lofty meeting space will include function rooms seating up to 200. tel: 020 8747 8484
The new hotel from the creative German chain will have a gallery, 350 bedrooms and a spa, housed over 18 storeys.
tel: 0800 169 6128
Firmdale will transform a derelict Soho site into one of their largest properties to date, with a cinema and a bowling alley.
tel: 020 7287 4434
Opening late in 2014, the eagerly anticipated 10 Trinity Square will occupy a mighty Grade II-listed site just by Tower Hill. David Collins Studio, in consultation with English Heritage, is designing the interiors.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events, summer 2012