A stalwart of Five-Star stays for many a film star, The Athenaeum Hotel has been given a spruce up. NICK HAMMOND revisits one of his favourite London hotels…
I HAVE fond memories of The Athenaeum.
The primest of prime locations; that free mini bar; a soggy pigeon who blinked in at me from my bedroom window ledge; the Thursday night Champagne drop-in session for residents. Imagine my consternation to learn that all these have been swept aside in the hotel’s latest incarnation.
(Well, to be honest, I can’t speak for the pigeon, but I didn’t see him on this stay. It is my warmest wish that he is now a wise old Grandpigeon, residing somewhere comfortable, dandling young squabs on his knee and telling them about this rum chap who spend a wet Wednesday in 2014 watching cricket and eating KitKats).
At least dear old Jim is still here – the giant, genial doorman here who’s as part of the fixtures and fittings in Piccadilly as a double decker bus.
But as bus conductors used to say, it’s ‘All Change!’ at The Ath and I’m pleased to report that it’s still a fine hotel. The Michelin-starred Galvin Brothers have taken the helm of the restaurant and doused it with TLC. The results are a soul-searchingly good menu and a pride-of-place wine service that offers exceptional wines by the glass always at optimum drinking condition.
On this occasion, family Hammond descended en masse to London to traipse, starry-eyed around its gold-paved streets. We were housed, in considerable style, in one of the hotel’s new Residences.
Designed for the family or medium stayer who wants some space, these apartments are perfect if you fancy making cheese on toast at midnight or lounging on the sofa after a hard day’s shop.
Just a trot around the corner from the main hotel itself, these rooms are based in classic, high-ceilinged townhouses, complete with kitchenette, luxury bath suite and a generous lounge area which features a very cool put-me-up indeed.
Once my entourage of dames had finished pampering and preening under the spotlights of the marble bathroom, we took in a drink at the very Sinatra-esque new bar. A really cool space with cocktails, mocktails and more and my only gripe would be a very distracting TV showreel on repeat at one end and weirdly modern electric music. Get some crooners on.
A lovely looking bar nonetheless and an equally excellent meal in the new Galvin restaurant ensued. And taking my last glass of Tempranillo onto the outside terrace, gently seared by the nearby flame heater, I sat, read my book and watched Piccadilly continue to bustle into the night.
Only sometime later when I returned to our rooms did I notice the aforementioned sofabed contraption has been turned, by some form of devilry, into a bunk bed.
Child A slumbered amidships while Child B snored in the crow’s nest and I retired to my own quiet and dark room with a grateful mien.
We walked bloody miles the next day. Five or six at the very least, I reckon. We braved Hamleys; pottered past Notting Hill’s antiques; browsed in bookshops, flew gliders in Green Park. And I still found time to nip into Dunhill’s No1a St James’s Street and have a cigar with Robert Emery.
It’s fair to say that we were pooped on our return to the Shires. And while I hope with all my heart that The Athenaeum doesn’t lose that lovely, family atmosphere it has always prided itself on, I rest assured that quality at the hotel remains a watchword. Apparently they spent an afternoon recently sampling potatoes to see which made the best chips. Crikey. It was time well spent mind, as the ones I had to accompany a great, bloody rib eye were to die for.
Good luck to this wonderful old establishment. I shall watch its evolution with interest.
The Athenaeum Hotel, 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BJ, Tel +44 (0)207 499 3464. For more information, including details of offers and events, visit www.athenaeumhotel.com.