After several lockdowns and no holidays on the horizon, I hauled up in my own city for the night. The result? A much needed treat amidst a global pandemic and an unexpected love affair with my own city resparked. Here’s what happened when I checked into Mayfair’s The Athenaeum.
It’s almost been 16 years since my 18-year-old self moved to London, part excited for my new life as a city gal (I watched a lot of Sex and the City at the time), part absolutely bricking it having just left school and the less streetwise culture of sleepy Jersey. In that time I’ve probably walked past Buckingham Palace twice, never seen the changing of the guards, don’t recall a trip on the London Eye since my school days and probably only ventured to Green Park a couple of times in the last 10 years within a decade.
That’s not to say I don’t see myself as an honorary London gal, I love this city and everything it has to offer, but there are far too many new restaurant openings, late night drinking dens and green spaces on my East London doorstep to be venturing to Central London each weekend.
Then came a global pandemic, border closures, three lockdowns and a pregnancy – 98% of which was spent at home – and suddenly a trip into London, real London, the London you see in the movies London, had never been more tempting. And so when the chance to stay at a five-star, much-loved institute came by after months of doing sweet F A, well, you can imagine, I jumped at the chance.
Enter The Athenaeum. The five-star hotel is hard to miss, I’ve passed it many times from the top of the No.38, with it’s lush green living wall that covers the corner of its Piccadilly-based facade. It’s a true rarity amongst the traditional imposing entrances of it’s Mayfair contemporaries and it’s uniqueness of the exterior doesn’t stop inside. From it’s sleek interiors to its dedication to art, the fact you can take your dog along to the unrivalled views that look far out across Green Park, a dedicated pillow menu and one of the finest concierges in the city (they have ins with pretty much every theatre or gallery you could hope for), The Athenaeum is an understated gem of Central London. It might be that the hotel is family-run, and has been since the 1990s, that gives the hotel its edge on service and attention to detail. There’s a real home from home vibe, albeit a pretty damn nice home.
While you can't argue that the rooms are designed to the millimetre, there are pockets of the hotel that don't take themselves too seriously - the huge Patsy from Ab Fab fame in the lobby, for example.
Settling into my new home for the night, my room was impossibly chic, with light flooding in and making the windows, sat above the green tree tops of opposite Green Park, the focus of the room. The colour palette was tasteful, calming and cool – all soft blushes, deep browns and flashes of gold. While you can’t argue that the rooms are designed to the millimetre, there are pockets of the hotel that don’t take themselves too seriously – the huge Patsy from Ab Fab fame in the lobby, for example.
You can see why this is a hotel that people come back to time and time again. In fact, there’s a selection of suites and apartments available for longer, more private stays and why The Athenaeum has been loved by many a big name over the years, from Elizabeth Taylor to Russell Crowe. So taken with the hotel was big time director Steven Spielberg that he installed an editing suite in one of the hotel’s residences when working on some of his biggest films. Five-star luxury and a homely vibes in equal measure.
It’s not just the celebrities that are looked after. Visiting still very much in the midst of a global pandemic, I was keen to see what the hotel were doing to protect their guests. It’s clear they are going above and beyond. Of course, there was the expected upping of cleaning in public spacings, the usual distancing measures, little hand sanitizers topped up with your toiletries in the room, but the hotel are even using ozone generator cleaning in all bedrooms between guest turnovers to destroy bacteria, pathogens and viruses. Essentially a little ‘bot goes into the room after each guest, sucks all the air out, pumps it back in and they’re good to go, knowing the next guests will be completely safe. Pretty cool.
Sadly, but understandably, there have been some other changes to the hotel post-Covid, The awesome hotel bar, that I visited many moons ago, is still closed due to restrictions.It’s cosy and classy and houses one of London’s most extensive whisky collections – the perfect place to knock knees over a nightcap. Then there’s Galvin at The Athenaeum, the hotel’s Michelin star offering which is now permanently closed due to, I imagine, being yet another lockdown hospitality victim. It was a stark reminder that the hospitality industry still desperately needs our support, even the five stars. So while we’re moaning over Ibiza being cancelled for yet another year or dreaming of the next long-haul, whenever that might be, holidaying at home is another way to help.
The hotel’s restaurant 116 at The Athenaeum is open, however, serving up all-day brasserie style plates and grills (if in doubt, they do a good steak), as well as tasting menus for something more special and a curious savoury afternoon tea for those who don’t fancy a sugar fix – expect the likes of Lincolnshire Poacher Cheddar scones and savoury cakes, pork and apple sausage rolls and quail egg and mushroom tartlets.
In the basement, there’s a modest hotel and while it might not come with the sprawling relaxation rooms and veering on invasive treatment menu, it’s cosy and cocooning, offering everything from glow up facials to glorious massages to rest weary limbs after a day of sightseeing. I had the dreamiest pregnancy massage and it was honestly one of the best 90 minutes of the whole nine months.
But it’s The Athenaeum’s location too that adds to its appeal, especially as a Londoner that’s never really ‘done’ London. The Queen is practically a neighbour with the Palace just minutes away, there’s the Mall, the restaurants and designer shops of Mayfair, Piccadilly, Soho, the Royal Academy, I could go on, all on the hotel’s doorstep. And while London beats to a slower drum, the crowds of tourists continue to be shrunk down and no chance to be tempted by low cost flights to Europe, now’s the time to check in for a holiday at home. I lapped in the city I’ve called home for over a decade and feel in love with it all over again.
The Athenaeum, 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ
Doubles start from £305