LONDON: One of the best things about visiting London is learning about the remarkable stories associated with many of its buildings and neighborhoods.
Take The Athenaeum Hotel and Residences. Its address — 116 Piccadilly — used to be known as Hope House, the swanky private residence of British MP Henry Hope, built in 1850. The interiors were so extravagant that they reportedly caught the attention of the author Charles Dickens.
Going into the Victorian era, Hope House was sold to the Junior Athenaeum Club, a gentlemen’s club open to the crème de la crème of London’s society, particularly those in science, art and literature.
The building became The Athenaeum in 1973, and the five-star hotel has been family-run since the 1990s.
History will tell you that The Athenaeum used to be all about glitz and glamour; exuding a grandiose air fit for its clientele of Hollywood celebrities and global politicians. In fact, film director Steven Spielberg once installed an editing suite in the residences, where he worked on “Close Encounters,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.”
In recent times, the property has been given an overhaul and is now more understated. It’s gone from a ritzy hotel to a boutique one — cozier, friendlier and certainly a breath of fresh air in Mayfair, an area that’s full of big brand accommodation.
Welcoming is the word that comes to mind when describing our recent visit. From the greeting at the entrance (look up Jim Gardner Burns, who has been a doorman at The Athenaeum for 26 years) to the friendly staff at reception, check-in was a breeze — and we were upgraded to a spacious suite, overlooking Mayfair. The open-plan room featured a double bed with living room area with sofa and TV. Meanwhile, the classic marble bathroom feels just as big, with probably the largest walk-in shower we have ever seen. No exaggeration, it could easily fit more than six people.
What stands out about the room is how accessible everything is. Lights can be controlled from the bedside tables, and all the functions actually work properly (how many times have you fiddled with the master switch in a room only for it not to switch off all of the lights?). One feature that could prove split opinion — you’ll absolutely love it or loathe it — is that the majority of the walls are covered in mirrors. It’s great for lighting, but it also means saying hello to reflections of yourself everywhere.
Outside of the room, there are several highlights too. The hotel’s spa is comfortable and well-appointed. It’s also home to a decent-sized gym.
When it comes to dining, a stop at the property’s signature Galvin at The Athenaeum is a must. Created by chef-restaurateurs Chris and Jeff Galvin — who also own the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane — it marks the first time the brothers have moved away from their trademark French-inspired menus to create modern takes on British classics. Sadly, we were short on time and didn’t visit restaurant for lunch or dinner, but the breakfast was enjoyable, combining buffet staples with an impressive à la carte menu.
One area The Athenaeum’s staff seem to take huge pride in is The View, a lounge that occupies the entire top floor of the hotel, and offers panoramic views of London’s cityscape. The space offers books, games and snacks, and is great should you need to do some work. The only downside is that the balcony, which overlooks the great views, is closed as a security precaution when we visit. And that’s a real shame, as the view would no doubt be 10 times better without the obstruction of the glass doors.
All in all, this property is definitely worth considering, providing strong competition in a saturated area of London. And with it being a short walk away from landmarks including Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace, you’ll save a lot of time on transport. Hello, West End.
Top tip: Book via the official website to take advantage of a number of deals, including Gourmet Getaway — a five-course tasting menu, plus overnight stay with breakfast — as well as discounts on additional nights or complimentary night packages.