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Secret London: the St James’s Hotel and Club

Checking into the St James’s Hotel and Club is an understated affair. This is one of London’s most discrete, boutique hotels, proffering a sophisticated brand of urban luxury; utilized by a core group of discerning London regulars, and (increasingly) a dazzling resume of international dignitaries and global business scions. Condoleezza Rice stayed here last month. Situated on Park Place, off the beaten concourse of St James’s Street (remember that apostrophe), the hotel is swathed in geographical anonymity, profiting from a name glistening with entitlement and expectation. The St James’s Hotel and Club sounds familiar, yes, its name conjures sure certainty that this is a hotel etched in the London hotelier vestiges. However, sense of entitlement or not, this is no headline hotel. The St James’s Hotel is not striving to stand out. There is no glitz of the Ritz, no dazzle of the Dorchester, it insouciance in the face of the saturated hotel scene in London is key, and generative of this unique brand of charm. Pedigree speaks louder than words when it comes to this property. The St James’s Hotel is never advertised, however it is nearly always full. There is nothing ostentatious or brash about the St James. This is a busy, smart, and uber-luxury hotel. And of course, this is not just a hotel. The St James’s Club was founded by Earl Granville and Marches de Azeglio in 1857. The Club was relocated to its current location, 7 Park Place in 1981, under the tutelage of Peter de Savary, working in partnership with Sir Sean Connery and Sir Michael Caine. A distinguished membership list ensued, decorated with the likes of Lord Attenborough, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore and Sir Michael Parkinson. After a number of facelifts, the most recent in 2007, the St James’s Hotel and Club reopened its doors in the Autumn of 2008, with the hotel now managed by the exclusive Althoff Collection. The neo-gothic building holds a myriad of bespoke rooms. Built in 1892, it was originally designed as a Gentlemens’  Chamber for visiting (wealthy) individuals, diplomats and politicians requiring accommodation ‘in town’. On arrival, the hotel does not overpower you, full of taupe and olive and neutral colours. The concierge and reception has a slightly befuddled charm, retaining a true English antiquated identity – slow paced and individually attentive. There is something of a (charmed) Fawlty Towers about it. Following the ergonomics of the building, each room or suite channels its own personality: some with terraces, some with four-posters, some without. My Junior Suite appeared compact, but comfortable. Indeed ‘small’ has been a common criticism of these rooms, however, this is central London living, where the might of the meagre is ever-important. And, with mitigated wow factor, the St James’s does not rely on the modern and obvious. The decadence is within the details. The gold ceilings in the meeting rooms are actually gold (well, leaf). The furniture is custom designed, the door-knobs commissioned at £200 a piece. Prestigious, Penhaligon toiletries decorate the otherwise spartan bathroom. The rainfall shower is a revelation, the soft, enormous and commodious bed, even more so. The St James’s Hotel hits the sweet spot every time, and it is clear where investment has been made. Comfort; is key. Aesthetic distractions; are not. Breakfast can be taken in the front dining room and bar, lit up as a traditional English parlour by the early morning sunshine streaming through the bay windows. With continental and full English options available, this is not a bad spot to muse the news. Dining options (of course) do not stop there. The St James’s also boasts the formidable talents of resident Executive Chef, William Drabble, of Michelin fame. Drabble oversees the bar, bistro, and private dining on offer in the hotel. Utilising locally sourced, British, products. Drabble’s flair adds a significant sparkle to the hotel (and club’s) operations and class. Advanced booking is highly recommended, this is a very intimate space, where the ‘exclusive’ is spatially confined, and not just reserved for the price tag. As I skipped out on to the London streets, for a stroll in the Autumnal evening sunshine, the power of the hotel’s location lifts the spirits. Walking down the historic boulevards of St James’s Street and Pall Mall, past St James’s Palace, the Ambassador’s Court, and into Green Park; London’s history accompanies the senses. For nostalgic old souls, there is real magic here. The St James’s Hotel and Club, generates London’s brand of irreverent charm within London’s most reverent of boroughs. Well worth a visit.

Harriet Dedman

A freelance journalist and documentary photographer, Harriet is currently based between London and New York. Specialising in grass-roots and vintage luxury travel brands, Harriet is constantly on the look out for the alternative and the boutique. Happiest with big vistas, heritage hideaways, and her Nikon DSLR, you can normally find her espousing the glories of golden weekends in Wales.

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