Revisiting the Splendor of London’s Café Royal Hotel
Café Royal has history abound. Born of a bankruptcy scandal, the property took shape in the 1860s after a Parisian wine merchant, Daniel Nicholas Thévenon, and his wife fled to London from Paris to escape debt collectors. They re-established their lives with aplomb and began Café Royal. At the time of its founding, it was considered to have one of the best wine cellars in the world.
No surprise then, that it quickly found a loyal following. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beadsley were often found there together, drinks in hand and deep in conversation (today, there’s a lush bar named after him; see below). The hotel guestbook reads like your high school history teacher’s fantasy dinner party: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, and D.H. Lawrence have all been guests. As years passed it remained a society stalwart, attracting the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor, who came arm-in-arm with Richard Burton.
The location is unbeatable, toward the end of Piccadilly, with Soho to the east and Mayfair to the west. Not originally a hotel, but a hub of luxury dining and entertainment, in 2008 the building deeds changed hands and the establishment closed, not to reopen until December 2012. This time, it was fully reincarnated—with the help of architect Sir David Chipperfield—and the doors flung open to reveal 160 guest rooms, including 49 suites and six signature suites (doubles from $688).
Like any of its contemporaries, the hotel is constantly evolving. Earlier this year it launched The Club—a private, members-only haven on the first floor. There’s an elegant café with a street view of Piccadilly, where the cupcakes and cakes give off a siren’s call each time you walk by and spot them through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Green Room bar is tucked away in a pleat of the hotel behind the restaurant. The bar recently launched a menu of cocktails inspired by fragrances from the l’Atelier de Givenchy, which was met with great success—our favorite is the gin-based Chypre Caresse, with jasmine, lemon and a touch of honey.
In late September the hotel will host an art exhibition, curated by Christian Furr, best known as the youngest artist to receive a commission to paint the Queen. All the works on display will be available to purchase, with the funds supporting the conversation charities Save Wild Tigers, the Born Free Foundation and the Environmental Investigation Agency. Taking a literal approach to the exhibition, all the works will invoke the tiger in some way.
There is a delicious spa, the Akasha Hollistic wellbeing center, a moment of respite from the thrums of the city. Featuring nine treatment rooms, the spa menu is a meeting of Eastern and Western practices. Beyond the cosseting massages and plumping facials, it’s the 60-foot pool and its cerulean water that entices.
Still, the hotel’s Oscar Wilde Bar never ceases to inspire awe. First opened in 1865, this gilded gold palace of a room features authentic Louis XVI detailing, and like its namesake, invokes a sense of play and mischief. Throughout the fall and winter, the space transforms to host The Black Cat Cabaret, an unforgettable evening of seduction and whimsy.
Bridget Arsenault is the associate editor, print and digital at Vanity Fair UK. and the co-director of the Bright Young Things Film Club. She covers the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure; follow her on Twitter at @bridget_ruth.