by Carrie Coolidge
Located in the heart of Mayfair in London, Claridge’s hotel is nominated for a Readers’ Choice Award for Best City Hotel. The historic art deco hotel is known for its award-winning service and luxury and is a key part of London’s history. Stars, statesmen, socialites and the crowned heads of Europe have enjoyed this five-star hotel for more than 100 years. Its grand hallways and staircases were designed to be wide and spacious so that ladies wearing wide skirted ball gowns, with crinolines, would be able to walk two abreast.
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The hotel’s history dates back to the first half of the 19th century when it was founded by William and Marianne Claridge ran a hotel at 51 Brook Street. The five next-door houses were the famous Mivart hotel. In 1854 the Claridges bought the Mivart buildings and the combined property became known as Claridge’s, late Mivart’s until Mivart’s death in 1856. The ultimate seal of approval came in 1860 when Queen Victoria and Price Albert arrived at the hotel. They were visiting the Empress Eugènie of France, who had made Claridge’s her winter quarters.
In 1893 Claridge’s was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte, owner of the Savoy. He commissioned the designer of Harrods to rebuild the hotel from the ground up. The new Claridge’s opened in November 1898. Through the years, the hotel became the destination of choice for royalty. During World War II, many exiled royals made their way to Claridge’s, including the Kings of Greece, Norway and Yugoslavia, as well as the Queen of the Netherlands. In 1947, a diplomat telephoned the hotel asking to speak to “the King”. The polite response was “Certainly sir, but which one?”
Tradition has it that when two Kings arrived on the same day both demanding to stay in the Royal Suite, a diplomatic incident was avoided by a quick thinking manager who advised them both that the ceiling had fallen down and gave them equally large suites on separate floors instead.
On July 17 1945, the hotel’s Suite 212 briefly became part of Yugoslavia. Sir Winston Churchill made the concession so that Crown Prince Alexander, the heir to the throne, could be born on Yugoslav soil. According to legend, Claridge’s staff placed a clod of Yugoslav soil under the Queen’s bed during her labor. Of course, even Winston Churchill, himself, took up residence at the hotel. At the end of the war, when unexpectedly defeated in the General Election of 1945, Churchill had to leave Number 10 Downing Street in a hurry. While temporarily homeless, he took a suite at Claridge’s, “with a rather poignant view back to the Palace of Westminster”.
Claridge’s, which is considered to be the most glamorous hotel in all of London, has been the destination of choice by many of America’s Hollywood royalty, too, from Yul Brynner and Audrey Hepburn to Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Bing Crosby. Spencer Tracy once said, “not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.” The hotel remains a favorite for celebrities with regular visitors ranging from Nicole Kidman and Naomi Campbell to Jude Law and Mick Jaggar. Model Kate Moss has been known to celebrate her birthday at the hotel.
The hotel recently redecorated its Fumoir bar, which features new Lalique chandeliers, bar fittings, glassware and votives, in addition to a cocktail menu featuring authentic 1930’s. The new Lalique enhancements make this aubergine-leather clad, candlelit bar the chicest and most luxurious venue in town. Claridge’s restaurant, was frequently visited by Her Majesty the Late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. One particular table in the restaurant was referred to as the Greek Cantina because Aristotle Onassis regularly chose to sit there. Today, the restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, features modern European dishes in a lavishly redesigned space by New York architect Thierry Despont.
The hotel has 203 rooms rooms including 67 suites, each of which were individually decorated and designed. One-third of the hotel’s suites were recently re-designed or restored by Viscount David Linley while designer Diane von Furstenberg is creating 10 guest rooms and suites for the hotel, which will launch in June. Each room comes with fresh flowers and the latest entertainment equipment. Rooms start at 490 pounds while 1-bedroom suites start at 1,700 pounds per night.