London: Hotels

Fresh From Million-Dollar Make Overs, London's Top Hotels Are Enjoying A Renaissance

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The Dorchester
53 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1A 2HJ
Tel.: 44/207-629-8888
Fax: 44/207-409-0114
195 rooms; 55 suites
Rates: singles from about $400 to $425;
doubles from about $450 to 525; suites from about $650 to $2,900
One of the most stylish of London's grand hotels, The Dorchester opened its doors in 1931 and was an immediate hit with old Hollywood and famous dignitaries. There has always been a theatrical quality to the hotel, which is strongly reflected in the inventive decor of some of the private dining rooms and suites by stage designer Oliver Messel.
After the Sultan of Brunei bought the Dorchester in 1989 extensive renovations were undertaken. When the hotel reopened its doors a year later everyone admired the magnificent restoration.
Rooms are sumptuous and individually decorated in an English country house style, and despite the proximity to busy Park Lane, you won't hear traffic. The bathrooms are elegant compositions of Italian marble and chrome. Guests can use the spa's steam rooms and saunas and gym.
The hotel offers a variety of dining options: the famous Grill Room, with its mostly traditional British dishes; the stylish and expensive Oriental with its Cantonese food; and the bar, where simple Italian dishes are served to those who want a light meal.
With its immense lobby, The Dorchester is not a hotel for the shy and retiring. It is very much a public arena, backed up by comfortable well-equipped rooms and a high level of service.
The Four Seasons Hotel London
Hamilton Place, Park Lane, Mayfair, W1A 1AZ
Tel.: 44/207-499-0888
Fax: 44/207-493-1895
183 rooms; 37 suites
Rates: singles about $400; doubles about $450; suites from about $625 to $2,750
Centrally located on the corner of Park Lane and Piccadilly, the Four Seasons London, formerly known as the Inn on the Park, has maintained consistently high standards since it opened in 1970. Although it has always catered to the business traveler, the decor suggests the comforts of home rather than the cold efficiency of a standard business hotel. A recent innovation is curbside check-in.
The standard rooms are surprisingly spacious and will soon come equipped with high-speed Internet access, two-line phones, safes, free access to CD and video libraries. There are some very attractive suites, notably the seven Park Suites with their balconies overlooking Hyde Park, which offer fax machines (curiously lacking from standard rooms) and cordless phones. Particularly airy and stylish are the 11 Conservatory Suites, which share a very large terrace.
A small health club is accessible round the clock with your room key; each fitness machine has its own TV, so you can select the channel of your choice while shedding the pounds.
The Four Seasons restaurant has been combined with Lanes, a stylish room with black lacquer walls and bright artwork. Executive chef Eric DeBlonde heads the kitchen. The meals are reasonably priced, and there is a wide selection of international wines by the glass. The public rooms are comfortable but can be gloomy.
The Lanesborough
Hyde Park Corner SW1X 7TA
Tel.: 44/207-259-5599
Fax: 44/207-259-5606
49 rooms; 46 suites
Rates: singles from about $350 to $450;
doubles from about $500 to $625; suites
from about $775 to $6,200
This renovated landmark building at Hyde Park Corner is hard to warm up to at first glance. The furnishings are almost all reproduction Regency style: roaring coal fires are gas fakes, portraits of early nineteenth century British aristocracy are modern copies, and several books in the bar have false spines.
Additionally, the rooms, although very comfortable, are heavily furnished, and lack elegance. Where the Lanesborough scores high marks, however, is in its superior service and technological sophistication. Every guest is assigned a butler who will unpack and pack your belongings and take care of your requests. Guests are also given personalized phone lines and mobile lines, as well as business cards providing these details: thus, your hotel room becomes your office away from home.
The Lanesborough offers a TV that doubles as a computer. It links you not only to a huge range of worldwide TV and radio channels but also gives you swift access to the Internet without charge; e-mail can be sent and transmitted for free.
A humidor, the cigar smoker's equivalent of a minibar, is provided upon request in all rooms, and there is more for the cigar aficionado in the famous Library Bar, presided over by Salvatore Calabrese. The cigar selection includes some pre-Castro Cubans (from about $140) such as the Davidoff No. 1 and the Trinidad Diplomat. The Library Bar also offers an amazing choice of top brandies, such as a 1796 (about $1,050) and an 1893 Delamain (about $175).
Also notable is the attractive glass-roofed restaurant called The Conservatory featuring Paul Gayler's sophisticated vegetarian and nonvegetarian cooking.
The Ritz, London
150 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9BR
Tel.: 44/207-493-8181
Fax: 44/207-493-2687
115 rooms; 18 suites
Rates: singles about $400; doubles about $475; suites from about $670 to $2,500
The Ritz, the grand old dame of London hotels, was showing signs of wear by the mid-1990s. But then the wealthy Barclay brothers bought the property and began a costly renovation. The spectacular results are based on the original architects' drawings. Rooms, originally embellished with gold leaf, had been painted over; now they are restored to their pristine gilt condition. The palatial restaurant is, once again, one of the great public rooms in the city. The rooms are sumptuous and so are the marble-floored bathrooms. Each room has a woven carpet; no two are alike. The large, firm beds are specially made for The Ritz. A fax machine is in every room and personalized phone and fax lines can be provided (the former business center was closed for lack of use).
The Ritz Restaurant offers grand French cuisine at equally grand prices. The wine list is strong on Bordeaux but otherwise fairly perfunctory. The Palm Court, also renovated, remains a delight and a popular gathering place for light lunches, tea and cocktails. The once severe Ritz dress code -- jacket and tie required -- seems to have been relaxed. Being smartly dressed but tieless is no longer grounds for eviction.
The Ritz Club and its casino are under the same ownership as the hotel but are managed separately. Britain's strict gaming laws mean that hotel guests no longer receive special privileges at the club; they must apply to join just like everyone else.
Stephen Brook, a freelance writer based in London, specializes in wine and travel-related topics. James Suckling contributed to this report.
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