The Handbook
The Handbook

Forget looking for where the party’s at, Bankside Hotel’s where the arty’s at! London has more galleries and artistic destinations than you can comfortably shake an easel at, from public art installations to world beaters like the Tate. And Bankside Hotel is a great staging post for checking them out, sitting a stone’s throw from the Tate Modern and clearly with more than an artistic temperament itself.

To the unobservant, Bankside Hotel might be the head office of a smart accountancy firm, the sleek but nondescript wraparound glass is discreet, the low-rise design disarmingly meek in a part of town quickly packing out with skyscrapers and apartment blocks replete with £10m flats. But step inside and you couldn’t be further from the world of accountancy. For a start, it’s fun.

Most hotels treat art as a necessary adornment, like providing hair dryers and dressing gowns or else as a way to intimidate and impress. Hotel art is either it’s expensive and showy, or it’s functional and drab, after all if nobody’s provoked then everyone’s happy, like painting the walls magnolia before you try and sell your house. Well Foxton’s would certainly raise eyebrows if they went round Bankside’s house.

As I check in I’m handed a pretty keycard, it’s a whole lot more attractive than the usual branded affair, and it’s further proof that the art really is everywhere; unexpected and welcome. The mid-century-meets-scandi-ish design of the hotel, pared back and simple, is pleasing, but it’s really just the canvas. Scattered throughout the hotel are pieces of art and design that make the hotel something special, from sculptures to paintings, found in small breakaway spaces and nooks throughout the building, to the rooms themselves. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no real impression that the art’s particularly expensive or by notable artists, but it’s fun and its different.

Meanwhile, the bedrooms are well sized and while the view is what you expect in central London, traffic and buildings, if you crick your neck then you can see the Tate Modern, a five minute walk away. And, again, it’s design where the hotel comes to the forefront. The room furniture is carefully selected, and unlike and it’s clearly been carefully thought through. Pretty rugs make the room, as do the soft furnishings in general. Hotels tend to either buy expensive furniture, to wow you with a Bang & Oloufsen telly, say, or else they furnish by spreadsheet, cutting every possible corner to come in under budget. At Bankside Hotel it feels like somebody sat down in your actual room and carefully selected the right items for the space. Of course, I can see from the website that every room is almost identically decorated to mine, but that’s still my impression.

Each room not only has interesting and varied pieces of art, but the desk comes with a little painting box, with a small palette, paints and colouring pencils. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to steal this as you leave, it’s always so vague isn’t it? It’s fine to take slippers, but not dressing gowns, soaps cool, but towels aren’t. So obviously I left the artbox, but it was a lovely touch.

The restaurant continues the theme, somewhat unsubtly it’s called Artyard! As elsewhere, the art on the walls is relatively interesting, and you almost expect the menu to be art themed too. Clearly sensing that a Picasso Pizza or Turner Tika Masala would’ve been a bit too much, Head Chef Lee Streeton instead plays it with a straight bat. The food, best described as ‘vaguely hipster healthy’, is interspersed with items like Grain Bowls, Radishes and Mushroom Arancini (excellent, by the way), but fear not as you’ll quickly discover the layered dripping chips (which are incredible) and the Yardburger, presented as a rarebit melt and with options of bacon and fried egg. Call me basic, I just blamed an artistic temperament and tucked into another side of the dripping chips.

You probably won’t want to get and about, this home-from-home hotel is comfortable enough to keep you happily contained for the foreseeable, as well as the restaurant there’s a champagne terrace after all. But if you want to wander to the Tate Modern it’s within a couple minutes walk, or wander over the river and take a bus to the Portrait Gallery or National Gallery, the Tate or Wallace Collection. Even Dulwich Picture Gallery is within striking distance if you’re willing to get a train from nearby Waterloo East or London Bridge. Or, how about a walking tour? Bankside Hotel can sort one out, taking in all the area’s artsy past, Shakespeare’s theatre was here, Charles Dickens lived here, and this South Bank area has a fascinating creative history.

There are more artistic hotels in London, the Lanesborough has a three Reynolds portraits in the entrance hall, while if you’re lucky enough to stay in the Groucho Club then you’ve got literally a wall-to-wall who’s who of modern art, likewise there are hotels that are closer to major art spots, the Ritz would (for a handsome sum) land you just outside the Royal Academy and within moments from the galleries around Cork Street, even Sea Containers, adjacent to and grander and the one place Bankside Hotel probably wish people would stop comparing them to, beats them on sheer artistic scale, but Bankside Hotel remains the one place with all these factors in one package. It’s the ideal artsy hotel, close to artsy places, full of artsy pieces and design, and small and intimate enough to be a work of art itself.

Bankside Hotel, 2 Blackfriars Road, Upper Ground, Bankside, SE1 9JU