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.


Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. (Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2019

Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

CHENNAI: Movies on World War II have delighted cinema audiences for years. Nobody can forget the daring Allied escape in the 1965 “Von Ryan’s Express” with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard driving a train through Nazi-occupied territory.

There were others in that decade and earlier such as David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” about British prisoners of war building a railway in malaria-infested Burma (now Myanmar). These were great classics, but recent efforts have not been as memorable.

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Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. Despite audiences still being thirsty for WWII sagas and a star-studded cast (Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas), the film is unmoving, mainly because of the shallow characters. If the dialogues are stiff, the dramatic potential – including the relationship among the men – appears to have been left midway.

The film begins with Japan’s December 1941 air attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, which dragged America into the conflict, and the flick follows America’s revenge mission culminating in the June 1942 Battle of Midway.

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For the US, it was a victory against all odds giving them control of the Pacific’s Midway atoll. It was also a major triumph of human spirit, but the film does not quite capture it.

Most of the exploits relate to real-life fighter pilot Dick Best (Skrein), whose devil-may-care attitude earns him the title “cowboy.” His wife Ann (Moore), the only female character, urges him on but seems a washed-out figure. However, there is plenty of action in the air with dog fights, bombings and pilots ejecting from burning planes high above the ground.

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For fans of singer Jonas, his small but significant part may appeal. He is sailor Bruno Gaido whose spontaneous and heroic action during a Japanese raid earns him promotion.

“Midway” plays at three levels, including one about Japanese military officers, and was shot in Hawaii and Montreal with a lot of computer graphics thrown in. The camera work (Robby Baumgartner) is impressive, but somewhere the soul is missing, and the characters fail to come across as real people.

Despite this, the film opened atop the North American box office last weekend with a reported $17.5 million in ticket sales.