They may have a propensity to over talk, but few people doubt the wisdom of London’s black cab drivers: the sages of that city’s streets. Therefore, I’m more than a little honoured to find that my hotel of choice meets with the approval of Del, the voluble Rastafarian cabbie who picks me up at Victoria Train Station after an interminable journey from Bangkok.
“The London Edition, eh?” he exclaims, surveying my travel-weary figure in his rear view mirror with a quizzically raised eyebrow. “Alright for some.”
I certainly have ample reason to be cheerful on this early June morning in the British capital. As Del turns the volume up on an uplifting reggae soundtrack – perfect for the warm, sunny weather – I prepare to enter the sumptuous London realm of disco king Ian Schrager.
It is arguable whether any hoteliers in the modern era are more influential than Schrager. The American’s keen instincts for the mood and feel of popular culture were honed during the 1970s and 80s, when he co-created the iconic New York clubs Studio 54 and Palladium.
Since then he has turned his attention to the world of luxury hotel design, a transition that has been as seamless and smooth as a floor-filling mix by legendary Studio 54 resident DJ Nicky Siano.
After introducing the concept of the “boutique hotel” to the world with the opening of Morgans Hotel in the Big Apple in 1984, he has continued to innovate working with figures such as architect Philippe Starck to create unique properties where luxury is offered in a stylish and sophisticated environment. The antitheses of bland, big brand conformity, Schrager’s hotels have a reputation for individuality and an ability to capture the zeitgeist.
Given all this, it is something of a curveball that the latest chapter in Schrager’s dynamic tale – and the one that has brought me to leafy mews terraces of Fitzrovia this particular morning – is bound up with the world’s biggest hotel chain, Marriot International. The seemingly unlikely bedfellows have joined forces to create the Edition brand of properties, combining the intimate, individualised design that Schrager is known for with the global reach of Marriot.
An initial four have already opened – London, Miami Beach, New York and Sanya in China – with a further ten to be rolled out by 2020.
The eagerly awaited Bangkok Edition will be unveiled in 2017 in MahaNakhon Tower, and going by the London property it promises to be one of the most significant openings in the Thai capital for a while.
That’s not to say that the two will have much in common beyond a shared commitment to the ultimate in service design excellence.
Each hotel in the Edition series has been conceptualised as being “one-of-a-kind”.
So while the Bangkok Edition will be located in one of the shiniest buildings in the modernity-obsessed Thai capital, its British counterpart makes the most of its prime address in one of London’s most charismatic and historic neighbourhoods.
Just north of Soho, on the other side of Oxford Street, Fitzrovia has traditionally been considered the raffish ying to Soho’s seedier yang. The area was famously popular with louche, bohemian types in the late 19th century. Indeed, the Pre-Raphaelites and Oscar Wilde were among those to lounge in its bars. After a temporary slump downmarket, the area is now among London’s trendiest with a host of top hotels, galleries, shops and restaurants scattered amidst the handsome Edwardian-era apartments and neoclassical mansions.
One of the star attractions in the enclave is the London Edition. Although it occupies an entire row of Georgian townhouses, the hotel achieves a unified whole. First impressions are, of course, lasting. In fact, one of Schrager’s trademarks is using a lobby as a social gathering space. And it would be churlish soul who quibbled with the welcome offered here. With the sound of Del’s reggae music receding behind me, I am whisked into a wildly convivial area with a lavish 19th Century ceiling and statue clad fireplace.
Although the lobby is a hard act to live up to, the sleek and contemporary rooms do their level best. Most rooms (mine included) have similar décor throughout, with walnut panelling, crisp white linens, a George Smith lounge chair, a cosy fur throw (an Edition signature I’m told) and Hendrik Kerstens’ mock-Flemish portraits. While I’m more than satisfied, I can’t help eyeing the one-bedroom suite with terrace complete with wrap-around outdoor space and free gin-and-tonic trolley with a modicum of envy when I’m shown around.
The F&B line-up at the Bangkok Edition is yet to be confirmed, but even if it is half as accomplished as the offerings in London we should be extremely excited. The hotel’s main bar/restaurant is Berners Tavern, helmed by Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton.
Before dining there, I enjoy an aperitif at the hotel’s Punch Room, which, with its heavy wood panelling and hidden away feel, is modelled on a traditional English gentleman’s club.
The overriding sense of excellence reaches its apogee, however, at Berners Tavern. There’s nothing particularly complicated about the food here, with Atherton creating a menu that focuses on high-end comfort food – quail on toast with foie-gras parfait, heirloom pork and pistachio pate and an perfect take on British fish and chips are among the offerings.
The space itself is something special with another grand ceiling and gilt-framed paintings covering every spare inch of wall. It is a tremendous place to dine and its popularity extends far beyond the usual remit of a hotel restaurant.
After a long journey from Asia and an eventful day in London I resist the temptation for a post-dinner boogie at Basement, the hotel’s on-site nightclub. Interestingly, it is Schrager’s first such venture since the Studio 54 days. Even though I miss out on the opportunity this time around, it is clear to me from the outstanding experience at the London Edition that the disco king is still in the groove.