Posts Tagged ‘england’

Lights On, Shoreditch

Monday, September 1st, 2014


London, autumn.

I stay at the Ace Hotel Shoreditch on the night after Alex Calderwood, the brains behind the entire hotel chain, dies at the property.

At the time of his death, Calderwood is a young man. Months later, it will quietly come out that he died of a mixture of alcohol and drugs.

I know none of this when we check in, when the staff can’t find the reservation, then finds it, then loses it again, all within the course of five minutes. A manager hovers behind his employees, watching the work. It’s all a little tense.

In the room, there is a complimentary bottle of champagne — the first of two that that the hotel will leave us over the course of the weekend. Later, a staff member will barge into the room without knocking with an armful of silverware.

I have dinner that evening in the downstairs restaurant with my friend V__, who lives in town. The decor is all wood and gold and geometric. The waiters wear sweatshirts and smile a lot. It’s adorable. Even jetlagged, I feel amazing. I feel that buzzy, far-from-home sense of exhaustion and excitement that only seems to come along with a flight from New York to London. My friend N_____ calls this just-landed, unacclimated space “the dizzy hours.” Plus, it’s autumn and London has that slantways orange side light. The Christmas decorations are up early. The Shard is done. You can’t complain about bad food anymore. Everything cool is British. For me, it’s the second best city in the world, sorry Paris.

Dinner is fine and they burn my steak, but I’ve never had a steak cooked exactly how I wanted anywhere but New York, so I can’t even be mad. It’s part of the traveler’s experience, the thing that makes the place the thing. Like I always say: It’ll go in the blog.

After, we could go out or we could stay, so we stay because the bar is new and the hotel is new and everyone there is noisy and pretty and it’s like a fashion show sliding between a series of small and large rooms — one with bookshelves, one with a DJ setup, one with a bar, maybe two with a bar, all of it painted in this off-blue-avocado-abandoned-mental-hospital color that matches the color of the air, of the entire night. The idea of leaving, of being elsewhere in Shoreditch, is almost silly.

We drink. There is a carafe of wine at dinner, then another drink, then an Old Fashioned, then espresso martinis. The latter have a foamy head and a star anise floating on top of each one, and they take ages to arrive. When they arrive, they arrive twice. The bar has made a mistake and the waitress shrugs. “You might as well drink them, because we made them.”

So we drink them.

Then we start chatting with a bunch of fashion photographers. I don’t remember how this started or how it ended thanks to the martinis, which go down like a double bomb of sedative and stimulant in the same gulp — more treacherous than any tequila shot. One of them tells me about the shoot he has to set up the next morning — McQueen. Another one is hitting on V___, who has told him several times that she’s married.

I think it ends — I think — because it has to. Because I have lost count of how many I drank. I remember V__ getting a cab, the headlights blaring through the homey little plants by the entrance. I remember regarding the size of the bill with a shrug and not being able to make the conversion in my head from pounds to dollars and not caring. Everything seems cheaper that way anyway. Best to worry about it in the morning.

And then I stagger upstairs. At least I don’t have to go far, but then, it’s all a nightmare of drunkennes paired with jittery, espresso-induced insomnia. I watch the ceiling of the room spin for three hours. I shove laptops under blankets in order to block the tiny flashing lights. I try to focus on the fire alarm, pray that it will be the one thing that will stop moving. I cry, only a little, over my own basic stupidity.

Over the rest of the weekend, I will see a Jez Butterworth play. I will eat Italian food. I will visit a book shop. I will walk the Columbia Road Flower Market. All of it with the pall of half-sickness hanging green around my head. I can do anything, anything, but sleep.

In the Stars: A Tale of Two London Hotels

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The Athenaeum Hotel

The Splendid Room

I am never happier than when I step into the slippers. The whole room is a dream, it’s true, from the cornflower blue fabric on the headboard to the sparkling porcelain sink. The lights brighten and dim soothing slowness, as though a basic switch would be too harsh, too jarring a transition. The climate control system—its intake and outlets mysteriously out of sight—whispers low like a lover. But the slippers.

Their one-size-fits-all design is genderless and basic to the point of being nearly disposable, but that’s beside the point. It’s the way that they feel that counts. Covered in what looks like terry but must surely be the insides of clouds or the fleece of a thousand baby lambs, wearing them means forgetting about discomfort. About sidewalk-nurtured callouses and endless dead skin and an ankle not quite healed.

I seriously consider wearing them out into the city. Before checkout, I stuff a pair into my already-overstuffed bag.

On Picadilly, across from the Buckingham Palace Garden, I decide to splurge. Maybe for the sake of the slippers alone.

The flight to New York to London is a sensory disaster, a 7-hour exercise in time-losing, body-disorienting anguish marked by the smell of thin, stale air and the endless bellow of jet engines. A soft landing on the other side becomes my mission, more than trying to maximize time, or bound out onto the city streets for sightseeing. This is how I know I’m getting older. Instead of needing to crisscross the city at breakneck speed, gawking and eating—the touristic equivalent of rape and pillage, all I want to do now is drink tea, scribble in my notebooks, wander without a map and sit by a river.

Upon arrival, I take a too-long shower and use up just enough of the shampoo and conditioner that I can still take some home. I wrap myself into the enormous white robe, knotting the belt around twice, and finally, when my energy gives out completely, doze on a starchy white pillowcase.

I don’t want to leave. I seriously ponder it, of all the blasphemies—staying sunk into that mattress like a lazy princess—instead of using my theater tickets. Instead of getting out, taking the walk through the bleating chaos of Picadilly Circus, figuring out dinner, spinning a map around in the palms of my hands. This is what a lovely hotel does to a girl who is not used to such things, who spends most of her trips avoiding the hostel she’s checked into, the noisy teenage boys there hogging all the good bunks.

The next morning, I make tea in the neat little electric pot. I use the wireless as though I will never have it again, as though I am headed to some overgrown jungle and will be sleeping in a hut instead of to a budget hotel across the river. My iPhone sits charging on a dock, unfettered from any tangling cords, from double layers of international adapters and surge protectors. I glut on civilization, on floor-to-ceiling mirrors and stacks of white towels. I am cured of my jetlag. I’ve seen nothing of London, of the river or Parliament or the parks or the little shops. The free museums inhabit some hazy elsewhere. Instead I have a cup of chamomile tea, turndown service, as many cotton swabs as I would like, and so much more—all the confines of that little room.

Tune Hotel Westminster

The As-Promised 5-Star Bed

You pay extra for everything. For a scratchy towel and a tiny tube of manly-smelling shampoo. For each day of internet access. For the television. For use of the hairdryer that sits like an overturned turtle on a table, its cord perma-mounted into a wall, silent and dead until you fork over £2.

It is a new concept in hotels, like an earthbound Ryanair—the nickel-and-dime business model. The benefit to the traveler? You can score an incredibly cheap room in a brand new London hotel that does promise a single, notable luxury: a great bed.

And it must have been, because I overslept in it twice, once on a morning where I was scheduled to take a train.

The Tune Hotel, located in South London by the Lambeth North tube stop, has the chipper, new-paint-and-plaster feel of an upbeat college dorm, right down to the Ikea furniture in the rooms and the kids at the front desk who smile like enthused RAs welcoming you to orientation. Even the wallpaper in the rooms is cheerful—the pattern covering mine was grass green and geometric with a whiff of vintage styling—but that, and the wide window, can’t cover the fact that the room is small.

The white slab of a bed fills it almost entirely, like a giant marshmallow.

After the Athenaeum, I try not to be displeased. I really do. I try to appreciate the bed, which is very nice, and the economy of the toilet/shower/sink, which sits in a pod in the corner and seems to be molded from a single piece of plastic. But I can’t. One 5-star hotel, and I’m ruined.

Even though the Tune is spotless, I smell the sheets. (Is that chlorine?) I wonder how the all-plastic bathroom is cleaned, and how it will look after five years of use, after the grime settles into the crevices. I am frustrated by the silent hairdryer, even though I haven’t blowdried my hair in years.

I’ve slept in beachside shacks and hippie commune hostels, and on a bare bunk in Greece for half a summer without a pillow. And here I am, cranky that the air conditioning is too cold, fighting with the window shade.

So I do what I must. I leave. I strike out into the city. I wander markets. I walk across Millennium Bridge. I see two museums, the Tate and the Tate Modern. I walk along the river. I take a day trip to Bath. I travel, finally, in earnest.

Go there:

The insanely wonderful Athenaeum Hotel is located at 116 Picadilly. To get there, take the tube to Green Park or Hyde Park Corner.

The utterly serviceable Tune Hotel is located at 118-120 Westminster Bridge Road.