The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

The historic hotel is no longer all about the glitz — and it’s all the better for it. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2019

The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

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.

Amr Diab is the first Arab artist to get his very own Times Square billboard

Arabic music star Amr Diab features on Times Square billboard. (Photo: AFP)
Updated 12 November 2019

Amr Diab is the first Arab artist to get his very own Times Square billboard

  • Amr Diab is the first Arab artist to appear on a Spotify billboard in Times Square
  • The move is a bid to promote the music and culture of the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Amr Diab is the first Arab musical artist to get his face plastered on a Spotify billboard in New York City’s iconic Times Square. 

The streaming giant projected a smiling portrait of the Egyptian crooner in one of the most-visited landmarks in the Big Apple in a bid to promote the music and culture of the Middle East and North Africa.

The Egyptian singer has become the first Arab music artist to be featured on a billboard in Times Square. Supplied

“Today we are celebrating Diab’s legacy and we are proud to see him shine so brightly - literally - on the global stage,” says Claudius Boller, Managing Director, Spotify Middle East and Africa in an official press statement. 

According to Spotify, the legendary singer’s music is most streamed in the United States, followed by Sweden, Germany, the UK and Canada.

His album “Nour el-Ain” (Our Eyes Beam) brought him global success and earned him the title of “The Father of Mediterranean Music” for his style of blending Egyptian and western rhythms. 

Diab received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Big Apple Music Awards in 2009. At the 2014 World Music Awards, Diab was also awarded Best Egyptian Artist, Best Male Arab Artist, and World’s Best Arab Male Artist Voted Online.

He was also one of the first artists to headline a concert in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the Saudia E-Prix in 2018. He was part of a superstar lineup that included the likes of Enrique Iglesias, Jason Derulo, the Black Eyed Peas, One Republic and David Guetta. 

The 58-year-old singer is set to take the stage of the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre in Jan. 20, 2020.