Housed in heritage buildings, including former banks, hospitals and fire stations, these boutique hotels in London aren’t just four walls to drop your bags in. With individually designed guestrooms and nifty features such as underground bars and rooftop pools, they are destinations themselves. We head from posh Marylebone to the edgy East End in search of London’s best boutique hotels.
It’s a wondrous world inside 1 Ham Yard by Piccadilly Circus. Part of the Firmdale Hotels group owned by interior designer Kit Kemp, guestrooms here run the gamut of mustard yellows complemented with ocean blues and pastel hues juxtaposed with hot pink, but it’s the rooftop terrace that’s the stunner. Ancient olive trees and seasonal fruit trees ripen over lime green seating, a vegetable patch grows herbs and veggies, and two beehives produce honey, all of which are used in the hotel’s restaurant.
Occupying a decommissioned fire station from 1887, the Chiltern Firehouse fits right in with the regal Marylebone area. White walls and linens are aplenty in guestrooms, while bathrooms boast classic marble floors and sink tops. But it’s the restaurant and bar helmed by Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes that continue to draw headlines – there have been numerous celebrity sightings from Kate Moss to Rita Ora. Drinks such as the Tokyo Blues (pink pepper gin, sake) and Warhol (whiskey, Bourbon, cherry tomatoes) are divine.
Another Firmdale Hotel, this Covent Garden gem on cobblestoned Monmouth street was once a French hospital in the late nineteenth century. The original red-brick façade still stands, while the inside has been converted into a whimsy patchwork of rooms decked with tropical-print curtains and fanciful mannequins. There’s a cinema in the basement that movie industry types frequent and best of all, a well-stocked fire-lit honesty bar where payment is left to the guest.
Once the headquarters of Midland Bank in 1925, The Ned, named after the bank’s designer, Sir Edwin “Ned” Lutyens, retains much of the original design, including the basement vaults which have been converted into a series of drinking dens as part of the hotel bar. Emerald-green walls, gold-rim mirrors and dark-wood headrests in rooms evoke the Jazz Age. Hotel guests and Ned’s Club members can also enjoy the rooftop pool, which has wonderful views of the surrounding financial district and the London skyline.
Easily recognizable by its white and red striped awning peeking from amongst a row of stately white 19th-century homes in Pimlico, the Artist Residence is one of the smallest boutique hotels in London with just 10 rooms. Its ground-floor watering hole, once a bare-bones neighbourhood pub since 1852, is now the artsy Clarendon Cocktail Cellar, where nifty pop art pieces spruce up exposed red-brick walls, like in the guestrooms. Order a movie-themed cocktail, such as the Kill Bill (Aylesbury duck vodka, sake, ginger, lemon) or Scream (quiquiriqui mezcal).
The Rookery, which means “criminal area”, is a loving tribute to the historically notorious East End. Creaky floors and rickety frameworks are intentional, and ornate statues and red upholstery in rooms conjure the Georgian Era. A quick jaunt from the hotel is the 800-year-old Smithfield Market, which is also the UK’s largest wholesale meat market. Though the area has been cleaned up – the iconic EDM nightclub, Fabric, is nearby – there’s still a staunch working-class vibe. Arrive before sunrise and you’ll see traders selling any type of meat imaginable.
Another quirky East London boutique hotel, the 13-room Zetter Townhouse feels proudly British. Perhaps it’s the Union Jack draperies in guestrooms or the wafting smell of booze from the bar where Tony Conigliaro evokes the spirit of Clerkenwell, which was a hotbed for illicit gin distilling in the 18th century. The master mixologist experiments with Old World recipes to make enticing seasonal cocktails such as the Flintlock, a mix of beefeater 24 (a dry gin), gunpowder tea tincture, and dandelion and burdock bitters.
Named after Rhaune Laslett, co-founder of the Notting Hill Carnival, this gorgeous boutique hotel occupies five white Victorian townhouses in the heart of Notting Hill. Each of the 51 rooms boasts fashionable white walls and linens and are decked with artworks, decorative items and furniture by British icons. Fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki, artist and writer Harland Miller and the Les Couilles du Chien antique shop are all represented here.
Located smack in the middle of Soho, this is the hotel to drop your bags off at and head out for a night at the theatre or fine dining, promptly followed by debauchery. The Georgian-Era-inspired rooms are snug but quaint, with cobalt-blue sofas, blush pink walls and bathtubs beside the beds. Oxford Street, the National Gallery and the British Museum are all within walking distance to Dean Street Townhouse as well.