Espionage tales and much more at St. Ermin’s Hotel in the heart of central London.
By Kevin Chaffee
After a recent $50 million renovation, this gracious four-star retreat beckons guests with a charming mixture of Victorian grandeur, eclectic design and up-to-date furnishings and amenities.
In the heart of St. James’s directly across from New Scotland Yard and within walking distance of Parliament Square, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Whitehall, the Royal Parks, shopping and theaters, the hotel is only a few minutes’ walk from the St. James’s Park underground and Victoria mainline stations.
The only London hotel closely associated with the history of espionage, St. Ermin’s intriguing past sets it apart from any other. In 1940, Sir Winston Churchill invited an elite group there to establish the SOE (Special Operations Executive) which formulated intelligence operations that helped win World War II (they initially occupied an entire floor). The Caxton Bar was used regularly by SIS, MI5, MI6 and Naval Intelligence Division case officers to meet their agents. The notorious double agent Guy Burgess frequently met his Russian counterpart there to hand over top secret files.
A diverse combination of historic (Grade II) architecture, Rococo plasterwork and Art Nouveau styling, the public areas exude an atmosphere reminiscent of great London houses of the pre-war era while blending seamlessly with contemporary décor. The theatrical grand staircase sweeping to a balustraded balcony in the marble lobby (also home to a Division Ball signalling members of Parliament to return for a vote) are something of a tourist attraction along with the extravagant front entry courtyard filled with plants, flowers and trees.
Friendly and courteously attentive at the front desk, concierge station and porter’s stand. No request was too much trouble. Extra points for securing a hard-to-get theater ticket less than an hour before curtain time and mailing postcards at no charge.
Standard rooms are on the small side (most are under 200 square feet) but comfortable and well-appointed with light green walls, botanical prints, large windows with fabric shutters, cushy mattresses, crisp linens and wondrous Dacron “Just Like Down” pillows. Amenities include a Nespresso machine supplied with both regular and take-out cups (a nice touch), refrigerator, iron and ironing board, safe, robes and slippers. Bathrooms are compact but luxurious with high-pressure “power showers” (although some have no tub). High-end White Company toiletries are regularly replenished. Suites feature Louis Vuitton-style furniture, leather-wrapped wardrobes, mother-of-pearl inlays and enormous baths with chocolate brown marble, walk-in showers and claw-foot tubs.
(1) Request a room facing the courtyard rather than one at the rear of the hotel (which have no views). (2) Accommodations located near the elevators have received noise complaints. (3) Ask for a rate that includes a full breakfast since nearby dining alternatives are limited.
Family Friendly Quotient
Parents travelling with children will appreciate the “Double, Double Rooms” that include two queen-sized beds, an additional sofa bed and two separate bathrooms. Young “007” fans will enjoy the hotel’s “Top Secret Briefing Pack” containing codes and tips to help “Budding Bonds” develop their observational and investigative skills. The kit takes them on a London Spy Walk Challenge that ends with their very own shaken-not-stirred non-alcoholic cocktail.
Food & Drink
The light and airy 72-seat Caxton Grill offers high quality “uncomplicated British food with European accents” in relaxed surroundings. Chef Adam Handling’s cuisine features products from local organic farms in Suffolk and Hampshire and fish from British waters; signature dishes use a Josper Grill, a Spanish-designed charcoal oven that imbues a distinctive smoky flavor to fish and seafood dishes. The six-course tasting menu ($166) is a popular favorite. Small repasts (antipasti, cheese platters, seafood and the like) are available in The Caxton Bar along with favorite beverages including the St. Ermin’s specialty cocktail, the Bowler Hat — Slipsmith gin, lemon juice and an infusion of honey that comes directly from six hives located behind a glass “visitors” wall on the hotel’s third floor. I was told that the 200,000 Buckfast bees who forage there gather nectar from the nearby royal gardens of St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace.
The Bottom Line
331 rooms, including 18 family rooms and 41 suites. Current room rates, including taxes but not breakfast, from $348 to $432. Family rooms from $465. Suites from $832.
St. Ermin’s Hotel
Marriott Autograph Collection Hotels
2 Caxton Street
London SW1H OQW, United Kingdom
- Condé Nast Traveler Hot List 2012
- Forbes Travel Guide – four star rating in London 2013 guide
- Expedia Insiders Select 2013
- Trip Advisor 2013 Winner Certificate of Excellence
Prices based on an exchange rate of 1 USD to .60 GBP at press time.