For the past 17 years, I’ve said that I split my time between New York City and London, but that wasn’t really true. Seventeen years ago is when I met an Englishman with a home in Highgate, the village in north London. We married, but for a long time my trips to London were relatively brief — a few weeks in the spring, a week on my way to another stop in Europe. I always had a plane ticket in one hand.
It was only in late 2020 when we really decided to split our time that I shipped a crate filled with my carpets, favorite kitchenware, sweaters, and stacks of books across the ocean and left New York City on a one-way ticket to London.
Which meant it was time to really get to know the city. To figure out why there are two different electrical outlets in my dining room, to find a place to work that wasn’t my living room, to discover restaurants that could rival NYC’s Shukette as my favorites go-tos, to finally figure out why the Brits could just change prime ministers without holding regular elections. That I got to London four days before the government declared its longest Covid lockdown, essentially keeping everyone locked in for six long months of winter, meant that when I finally could dive into the city — into the bright newcomers and the dependable classics — the city was primed, fresh, and ready to be consumed.
Here's a highly personalized valentine to my new second hometown, starting with hotels of recent vintage.
London, like Paris and Rome, is living through a phase of major hotel expansion, and travelers are all the luckier for it.
The NoMad Hotels in New York City and Los Angeles were among the coolest and prettiest I’ve seen this century. (And I see a lot of hotels.) Too bad their owners couldn’t stop bickering and shuttered both of them. (Real estate bros need to be spanked.) I take great comfort in knowing that NoMad London landed safely a few years ago and is absolutely thriving with the same cool and beauty of its its long-lost siblings. Designers Roman and Williams made their European debut here with great panache, transforming the former The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station and imbuing the residential-feeling rooms with thoughtful details like push-button brass light switches, Billecart Salmon champagne in the minibar, John Derian paperweights on the desks, with lots of pretty books scattered about. Primary points of inspiration are nearby Covent Garden theaters and the Royal Opera House across the street, as well as the post-WWII art scene in New York and London. More of that essential NoMad DNA is evidenced in the enviable food and drinks program — fine dining at NoMad Restaurant, Mexican-inspired drinks and snacks at Side Hustle, creative and award-winning cocktails at subterranean bar Common Decency. The Library, one of my favorite rooms in town, is filled with tomes about New York and London and is reserved for guests only.
I don’t like to play favorites, but I can’t think of another hotel that charmed me more as much as the former 18th-century home of Henry, Jane Austen’s brother. Discretion and privacy are key here, starting with the barely-there name plaque on the front door. The public spaces and six bedrooms (each named for family Austen members) are elaborately and individually outfitted with artwork, textiles, and furnishings evocative of the Regency era. While rooms can be individually booked, this townhouse can also be booked for exclusive use for up to twelve guests. The pantry-style kitchen easily converts into a tech-equipped meeting room, while the living room on the ground floor makes a great setting for late night drinks and chats.
If Downton Abbey taught us anything, it’s that every great aristocratic family needs a pied-a-terre in the city when they tire of their country pile. As it was on the screen, so it is in real life, as evidence by another hospitality trend of recent vintage: country hotels opening outpost in the city. Beaverbrook, a grand estate in the Surrey Hills, opened companion Beaverbrook Townhouse in two Georgian homes in Chelsea. London theaters were the inspiration behind the fourteen colorful rooms suites, while a Japanese theme infuses The Fuji Grill restaurant and multi-course omakase offering. Throughout are fun tributes to the life, work, and whims of Lord Beaverbook, the colorful media baron who served as Winston Churchill's Minister of Aircraft Production. (The other British example of this is Scotland’s beloved Gleneagles, which launched Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh.)
Plenty of people I respect disagree with me about this self-professed “super boutique” hotel, primarily because it’s feels a little fashion victim-y and is located in Leicester Square, the most touristy patch of London. I don’t care. I think The Londoner is a total knockout. The hotel was largest private excavation project in the world (six floors below ground) and cost half a billion pounds to build (which is just an absurd sum, but that's what happens when the budget includes hand-firing the thousands of blue tiles that cover the building's façade). I love the 1970s disco vibe designers Yabu Pushelberg brought to the design and the décor, the expansive bar areas reserved for hotel guests, and the dazzling gym, pool, and spa area occupying one of those six excavated floors.
Private clubs are big in London, and hotels with a private members’ club component are a big trend in luxury hotels all over the world. It’s easy to see the economic motivation: Clubs, when they work, can bank on a clientele that’s more reliable than transient hotel guests. The Twenty Two hotel, restaurant, and private club brings new life to Grosvenor Square, one of the most exclusive enclaves in Mayfair, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in town. (I’m saying “one of” because London loves its pockets of exclusivity, and St. James and Sloane Square would go to the mat for the title.) The hotel, which is owned and staffed by teams who have worked at or owned local hotspots Blakes and Chiltern Firehouse, is beautiful, with an opulent and colorful design (minimalism is not thriving in London) throughout the individually designed bedrooms and public and private spaces. And it’s buzzy: The paint had barely dried when the restaurant was already welcoming a clientele that included the likes of Madonna, Tom Cruise, and FKA Twigs.
Here’s another hotel-with-club in another well-heeled neighborhood, South Kensington. What makes The Other House a little different is its focus on extended stays (“live as a resident” is a motto) and the fact that it caps membership at 150 people who live in the area, with the goal of bringing a real residential feel to the member offerings — the gym, indoor pool, jazz performances, meditation classes — which hotel guests have access to. Sustainability was at the forefront during the conversion of eleven connected townhouses into the hotel and remains a practice: Guests can measure their energy use on a proprietary app. (That's cool!) The public restaurant, The Owl & Monkey, was named for its clientele, who the hotel hopes are “as wise as owls and as curious as monkeys.” (I want to claim that as my motto.)
While I’ve never liked the classic Park Lane hotel — too big, too flashy, too totally not my scene — recent visits during its renovation-in-progress have me reconsidering my long-held opinion. I liked the park views at the rooftop bar and restaurant, had a great night of cocktails at the new Vesper Bar, and totally soaked in the atmosphere of restaurant-lounge The Promenade (where Liberace’s tacky mirrored piano seemed somehow....classy). What changed, me or the hotel? I’m not sure. I do know the Dorch is as grand as it ever was, but I’m finding it more welcoming than ever before.
The vibe is Alice in Wonderland by way of Oscar Wilde. The watering hole bills itself as “The Dandy Bar.” Foxes, butterflies, and lush florals are a theme in the décor, paintings, and branding, but the most notable animal is Alfie, the peacock emblazoned with 25,000 Swarovski crystals that preens in the lobby. Despite the fun frippery, the centrally located hotel right off Picadilly is a great option for its varying room sizes and price points. (Read: It’s not as pricey as it could be.)
Keeping with the literary theme, if you're more into Paradise Lost and are hankering for a louche, rock 'n' roll vibe, make your way to this collection of rooms and short-term apartments on the Tin Pan Alley street where The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Elton John recorded and wrote and the Sex Pistols lived. The feel is very decadent and discreet — note the dramatic standalone bathtubs, a dark and moody palette, "quick one" spray painted on the ornate bed frame. You'll wish you were here to have a very ill-advised (if very memorable) love affair.
The aforementioned hotels are all notable for one reason or another. You know what they’re not? Affordable. When money is an object (and when isn't it?), I look to Locke, a growing chain of punchy, fun “aparthotels” with a half dozen outposts in London’s cooler neighborhoods (Bermondsey, Dalston) and even more throughout England, Scotland, and Germany. The concept is totally of the moment, focused on local offerings and experiences, a work-meets-living hybrid, and an everyone-is-welcome-here ethos.
The East London hotel that was once Ace London has been transformed by Lore Group, who also have Sea Containers across the Thames. That sustainability was important to the hotel company is clear in the design: They kept the best parts of the Ace, of which there were many, instead of just trashing it all for no good reason (as I see less enlightened hotel companies do too often). They added a California-cool vibe to the rooftop bar and lounge, and made the rooms extra cozy and light. We're big fans of this affordable charmer, and you can read more about why in One Hundred Reasons to Love One Hundred Shoreditch.
Finally, while I really don’t like naming favorites, if I had to pick a favorite London hotel — and money was no object — I’d check into The Connaught and throw away the key. I’m always impressed by the hotel’s refusal to rest on its laurels and its ability to invigorate its offerings while remaining a classic. The recent addition of The Red Room, a chic bar tucked away behind the Champagne Bar, is just the latest example of what they do so well.
If, in my London hotel fantasy, The Connaught was booked, I would walk a few blocks to the Beaumont, the independently owned Art Deco dreamboat that makes me feel sexy and sophisticated and cool every time I walk in. The private bar off the lobby that had originally been reserved for guests has recently been transformed into the now-open-to-all Le Magritte Bar & Terrace, where the art, drinks, snacks, and music take inspiration from the American bars that made Paris and London such fun places to party in the 1920s. A forthcoming expansion into the building next door will add 30 individually decorated rooms to the offerings. Why do I love The Beaumont so much? Well, you might say the whole American-in-London vibe fits this cross-Atlantic traveler like a handsome and happy glove.