I would be less than honest if I said that everything was in lickety-split, perfected condition when I arrived for my three-night visit, this past January. Although the hotel had officially reopened with great fanfare on December 12, with a marching band in attendance and Margaret Thatcher on hand to cut the ribbon, here it was a month later and the heated towel racks seemed undernourished; some of the lighting proved dysfunctional; and there were workmen still plastering and painting in the hallways. A couple of the rooms I peeked into seemed to lack the Polizzi polish, as though they had been readied too hastily, and there were wake-up calls that never got through because the phone somehow failed to ring. But I would also be less than honest if I said that these small glitches seriously distracted from the warmth and sophistication of the place or the experience it continues to offer of being attended to in the best possible way—without feeling intruded upon.
In the end, you've got to hand it to Sir Rocco Forte and Olga Polizzi for pulling off a hazardous juggling act with great aplomb. Their version of Brown's is both bold and cozy, familiar enough (the halls are still higgledy-piggledy and the floors uneven) to seduce the old guard and sufficiently cutting-edge to entice the younger set, who hang out nightly at the Terrence Donovan bar. Stuart Johnson, the slightly clubby (he comes by way of Claridge's and the Cliveden) but refreshingly candid ("We opened too soon") general manager, puts his finger on what makes the streamlined, gussied-up Brown's as alluring as its crotchety, shabby-chic precursor. "You judge a hotel," Johnson observes in his plummy old-boy accent, "on how it makes you feel. The best hotel in the world is the hotel you are known in." To which I can only add that someone at Brown's knew me and my absent-minded, last-minute proclivities well enough to return the acid-green suede glove I dropped somewhere in my frantic rush to make my flight out of Heathrow; it arrived by post within several days of my walking in the door to my apartment. No questions asked, no answers required. Now, that's the kind of service—so intuitive it seems like a form of, well, devoted nannying—that you can't buy.
Brown's, 33 Albemarle St.; 800/223-6800 or 44-20/7493-6020; www.brownshotel.com; doubles from $510.