The Savoy Hotel – Luxury Reborn

The Thames foyer

The Thames foyer

The London skyline

the sitting room of the Royal Suite.

No two rooms in the Savoy are alike. Above left, a river-view room in Edwardian style.

the American Bar

the River Restaurant, which has views of the Thames.

The Savoy’s entrance is one of the most distinctive and grand of any urban hotel.

The Savoy’s remodeled front hall (they eschew the term lobby),

The staff of the famous Savoy Hotel in London had plenty of advance notice that the guest would have needs that would stress them out. (Stress, though, is something they never allow a guest to see.) The guest would be arriving with his 60-person entourage, all of whom would need rooms in the hotel, plus working space. He himself would occupy the $15,000-a-night, six-room Royal Suite. He would bring from Paris his personal fleet of automobiles, which would need garaging. He doesn’t eat sugar, so all cookies and desserts and such would have to be made sugar-free. Finally, he stays on Saudi Arabian time no matter where in the world he travels. So the staff would have to conform to his schedule.

The guest, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, at 56 trim and jaunty with an Omar Sharif mustache, a tan leather jacket and a drop-dead gorgeous wife, Princess Ameerah Altaweel, is the owner of the Savoy, in fact of many luxury hotels, including the Plaza in New York and the George V in Paris. If the 600-member Savoy staff could pass muster with the Prince—Forbes magazine’s 19th richest man in the world in 2010—everything else would be a breeze.

The occasion for the Prince’s visit was the reopening of the Savoy on October 10, 2010, (10/10/10) after a three-year closure for a complete gutting and restoration. The job took a year longer than anticipated and went $188 million over budget, for a total cost of $345 million. Most of the staff were new hires and had been training intensively for months. To add to the pressure, also on hand would be Britain’s Prince Charles.

In fact, everything went off without a hitch and both Princes were delighted with the new Savoy. The grand old building, which is managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, had never been closed a day from its opening in 1889 to its shutdown in 2007. In the interim, a who’s who of celebrityhood had made the place legendary—to name just a few, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Humphrey Bogart, Lena Horne, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, George Gershwin, Judy Garland, Oscar Wilde, Louis Armstrong, Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, who lunched at the Savoy with his cabinet during World War II, and Marlene Dietrich, who liked pink roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon to await her in her room.

The style is, as ever, Edwardian and art deco, but shrewdly understated. One of the first things you notice upon entering the imposing mahogany lobby—with its high ceiling, white frieze, large oil paintings and luxurious furniture—is that there is no check-in desk. Nor are bags and suitcases anywhere to be seen. That is because check-in is handled in advance so guests can go straight to their accommodations, the doormen whisking all baggage directly to the rooms via dedicated elevators. (Thanks to the Savoy’s vast front-door canopy, no one ever gets wet stepping out of a car on arrival.)

Formerly carpeted, the lobby (front hall is the preferred term)now has a black-and-white marble checkerboard floor. The checkerboard pattern continues in the grand room just past the front hall, the Thames foyer. This is the social hub of the hotel. With its capitol-like glass dome in the center letting in daylight, and its abundant plush armchairs, couches and cocktail tables surrounding a central gazebo where a pianist holds forth, the Thames foyer is an ideal place to see and be seen—and be served cocktails, high tea or even a meal while you do so. You might want to try a melba and bourbon vanilla tartlet, inspired by the original peach melba recipe created by the Savoy’s first executive chef, Auguste Escoffier.

But there are many alluring places in the new Savoy in which to, as the British say, tarry. The famous American Bar is back. (Its head bartender, Erik Lorincz, was named Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot Bartender of 2011.) Then there is the art deco Savoy Grill and, for the most upscale fine dining, the River Restaurant, with its leopard-pattern carpet and its big window views of the Thames River and the Embankment Gardens. All-new is the dramatic, black-and-gold cabaret called the Beaufort bar, where the menu offers an extensive selection of champagnes by the glass, including rare vintages from Louis Roederer and Cristal.

All 268 rooms, from a basic double ($550 a night) to the Royal Suite, have been rebuilt and redecorated in faultless Edwardian and art deco style, though no two are exactly alike. Of the total, 38 suites and rooms offer picture-window views of London and the Thames River. Non-Edwardian amenities include high-speed broadband access, two-line telephones, modems, iPod docking stations, digital radios and LCD TV screens. A new staff of Savoy butlers has been trained (and trained) in pampering residents (the Savoy frowns on the term guests) in the suites. Among other things, your butler will unpack and pack for you, be your personal shopper and secretary and even help you get dressed to the nines for a big night on the town.

London INSIDER tips

Centrally located on the Strand, the Savoy ( is just steps from boutique shopping at Covent Garden. Opera and ballet are five minutes away at the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum. The Savoy is blocks from the West End (London’s Broadway). Simpson’s on the Strand, famous for its prime rib, is on the Savoy’s doorstep. Also nearby is the Delauney, one of London’s trendiest new restaurants. Hot art tickets in London include Davd Hockney at the Royal Academy and the megabucks bad boy of contemporary art, Damien Hirst (he of the preserved shark in a tank) later this year at the Tate Modern.

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Author: Issue: Mar/Apr 2012
Credits: RIchard Bryant Courtesy of Savoy Hotel; Niall Clutton (2) Courtesy of Savoy Hotel; Top: Niall Clutton; Bottom: Richard Bryant
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