The Savoy hotel has all you would expect of a five-star hotel and yet something more as it’s steeped in a very singular and stylish history. As one of London’s most famous and iconic hotels it opened in 1889 on the Strand which today is ideal for theatre goers with one theatre within the complex, London’s theatreland and Royal Opera House across the street, and the National Theatre across the river.
I sensed the timeless charm and classic elegance that make it so special from the moment I walked down its own forecourt (famous for being the only street in Britain where traffic must keep to the right). I looked up at its signature stainless steel ‘Savoy’ sign and walked past the Lalique fountain then to be ushered by doormen in tails and with top hats into the front hall (as it prefers to be called to the lobby). What a start.
And what a statement. For I entered a world of Art Deco and Edwardian decor with marble floors, chandeliers, wood paneling and sculptural friezes. The lifts are gold-fronted with the Red one, named an Ascending Room rather than an elevator, being the oldest electrical one in London. It was here that Auguste Escoffier the chef and César Ritz the manager joined forces and here that Guccio Gucci started out as a luggage porter at the very spot where there’s now a Gucci boutique concession. For he got direct experience of the tastes and needs of guests which inspired him to start his own leather goods company. And an art deco sculpture of a cat called Kaspar sits proudly in the front hall (along with topiaries in his honor in the forecourt) as he helped mollify a superstition involving the lethal consequences of having thirteen guests around a dinner table.
The private dining rooms have names like Pinafore, Mikado and Gondoliers after the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas from the days of the The D’Oyly Carte performances in the neighboring theatre. A stained-glass dome covers the vast square room that is the Thames Foyer with its pillars and statues and its colorful portraits that reference the ‘Good Times’. A large white metal canopy envelopes the centerpiece grand piano refreshingly put to use during the quintessential afternoon tea: cake stands and all. There’s also a beautiful ballroom where the Americans chose to entertain themselves in the war.
The hotel has 268 rooms and suites with an entry price of £650. So beautiful is the finishing that my room felt brand new and felt both homely country house and traditional town house: so tasteful and elegant its décor of Murano chandeliers and antique-style furnishings. My checkered marble bathroom had under-floor heating and a wonderfully deep bathtub. Try for a river view room, fantastically positioned over the bend of the Thames. It’s a wonderful panorama, particularly at night and where I spotted six bridges in all, three on either side, carrying red double-decker buses and beetle-shaped black taxis.
Hidden within the hotel’s heart is the wellness area with an impressive, long swimming pool with natural light and treatment rooms where I was to be fully pampered having chosen The Savoy Signature Treatment, a two-hour session of the deepest relaxation. Impressive in every sense.
The Savoy has several rather different main restaurants: there’s the Gordon Ramsay-affiliated Savoy Grill, there’s Simpson’s-in-the-Strand currently closed though famed for its carving trolley and there’s The River Room is a further option for both breakfast and dinner allowing those enjoying a longer stay a spoiling choice. For my excellent dinner I chose Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill where I sat in the spacious cocoon of my hemispheric banquette from which to admire true Art Deco glamour: four opulent luxury-sized drum-shaped crystal centerpieces shining down on black and white photographs of theatrical idols set within the lacquered walnut paneling and mirrors.
Here, where Sir Winston Churchill often dined, I enjoyed a smoked haddock Arnold Bennett Soufflé (a favorite of the hotel and the author who often stayed) followed by a Classic Beef Wellington with pomme purée, Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, paired with a ‘Brunello di Montalcino’ red and then a dark chocolate and orange Sacher with hazelnut ice cream. A memorable event.
Just as each of the public rooms has its own unique style: some with traditional fine art, others something more modern, so each bar has its own feel and even its own cocktail menu. The theatrical Beaufort Bar is black and gold, dimly-lit and intimate. As for the legendary American Bar, London’s oldest cocktail bar, the hotel archivist was on hand to explain the impressive roster of celebrity guests immortalized in framed photographs up the steps to the bar: Monroe, Crosby, Churchill, Sinatra, Chaplin and Garland. Quite a role call for quite a hotel.