When it first opened, back in 1889, The Savoy caused a sensation. It was Britain’s first luxury hotel and the first to have ‘ascending rooms’ – elevators, that is – and electric lights and hot and cold running water in every room. Today, The Savoy is managed by Fairmont and owned by HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose other prestige hotels include the George V in Paris, The Plaza in New York, and Raffles in Singapore. It reopened in 2010 to great fanfare after a three-year refurbishment whose budget is rumored to have soared from £100m to £220m, making it the most costly hotel refurbishment in history.
The Savoy’s management likes to call the work ‘a restoration, not a refurbishment’; and indeed, one is reassured to still see the famous stainless-steel sign hanging above Savoy Court, the hotel’s main entrance, as well as the bullet hole in the window of the Savoy Grill – the result of a visit from an unwelcome gangster.
Top tip: request room 828. This River View Junior Suite has The Savoy’s only balcony, which also just happens to be the highest of any hotel in London! Even on a foggy day, the views across the Thames and the City are magnificent.
The bed was possibly the comfiest I’ve encountered in London, and the room came with a fully stocked desk bearing my very own personalised notepaper. The masculine, black-and-white Art Deco marble bathrooms were teeming with Miller Harris products and white fluffy towels, and simply demanded to be used for pre-dinner preening and pampering.
The suite also came equipped with Heikle (pronounced like Michael), our Savoy Butler, there to assist guests with packing, pressing clothes, printing boarding passes, booking tables in the otherwise ‘no reservations’ in-house bars, etc.
The iconic American Bar, where Elton John is known to have given impromptu concerts at the piano, has been faithfully restored. Meanwhile, the newly created Beaufort Bar, decorated with gold leaf and black lacquer, holds an impressive list of champagne. Of the two bars, it is the more exciting to visit. For dining, there is the Savoy Grill, now part of Gordon Ramsay’s stable, and the River Restaurant, which serves an excellent modern French menu and boasts beautiful views over the Thames and Embankment Gardens.
There are also nine ‘personality suites’ in tribute to famous past residents, including Maria Callas, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra. There’s even an in-house museum showcasing the hotel’s glamorous past. Winston Churchill frequently lunched there with his Cabinet during World War II, while Zsa Zsa Gabor used to arrive with a team of bodyguards employed not so much to protect her as her extensive jewellery collection.
Crucially, that atmosphere of grand glamour remains in abundance. Well over a century ago, The Savoy took London’s breath away with its luxury, technology and sheer style. How great to see it doing the same all over again, having reclaimed its place at the top table of the capital’s luxury hotels.