You’re spoiled for choice for hotels along Park Lane. But many fall into the same category – mammoth towers, taxis rushing in and out and busily indifferent doormen – all a bit impersonal and soulless, really. And since some are almost tourist attractions themselves, it can feel a bit like you’re at the Trocadero Centre.
Better to find somewhere more intimate and bespoke. Enter the Athenaeum at 116 Piccadilly, a chic jewel of a place. No overly showy façade or flags, just an elegant little tree-lined terrace and door. Dopily, and despite having lived in London for most of my adult life, I actually went to the Athenaeum Club on Pall Mall by mistake first – not related except by name and an irritating mistake to make. I blame blindly following Google Maps as usual, even though I knew the hotel was on Piccadilly. So I arrived flustered, soaking wet and a bit cross (with myself).
All that was swept away on arrival at the (correct) Athenaeum. From the doorman leaping out in the rain to help with my case to Carla at reception giving me some towels to dry off, I was cheery again within minutes. “I’m not the first to make that mistake,” I was told.
The check-in process is very personalised but efficient … “we were expecting you.” From arrival to unlocking the door to my suite took less than five minutes. The weather was appalling – cold, windy and wet so my Green Park Suite – spacious without being too showy – was the only place I wanted to be.
What the Athenaeum does particularly well is combining a historic building, awash with secrets, with five-star luxury. On the one hand, you have a flash 52-inch flatscreen smart TV but you’re whooshed to your floor in an old-fashioned lift straight out of a gentleman’s club where you might find Bertie Wooster.
A fitting thought perhaps as the Athenaeum started life as a voguish private members’ club – all the rage in Victorian times. Patrons included Charles Dickens, it is said, and many other esteemed gentlemen connected with literature, science and art. The name “athenaeum” loosely translates to “library” and as time went on, it maintained its arty connections, but they became a bit more…showbiz. The hotel was a favourite haunt of Elizabeth Taylor, Russell Crowe (who was told off for his messy room) and Take That even announced their split from one of the penthouses. So I was in good company.
My suite had floor to ceiling views of Green Park and a vast bathroom, including a shower that was bigger than my London bedroom. Lots of retro marble but with reassuringly powerful water pressure and all the yummy extras like underfloor heating and his and hers sinks. A lovely extra touch was a bottle of Baron de Badassiere red wine and macarons waiting for me. If you don’t fancy a suite, the Athenaeum has rooms ranging from a deluxe to the Residences – luxury serviced apartments around the corner.
I was staying there alone, a solo mini-break. But not once did I feel out of place, including visiting the subterranean spa. The Spa at the Athenaeum is compact but soothing. A sauna, steam room and the new heated hydro-pool were just the ticket. And due to COVID safety measures, visits are timed so you’ll most likely have the place to yourself. After a complimentary glass of fizz and juice and a massage, a glorious hour or so was spent just floating about being smugly zen.
Dining at the 116 restaurant on this dank and wet evening was a cosy treat. The menu is straightforward enough, a mix of Mediterranean fare and British classics. I went for a plentiful charcuterie board with fresh olive bread followed by pea and shallot ravioli with smoked tomato pesto. Finished with a summer cheesecake and two glasses of very dry and delicious house Champagne.
For those planning on doing some work at the Athenaeum or wanting somewhere a bit special to retire for a nightcap, there is also The View – a residents’ only bar on the top floor with panoramic views of London and if needed, somewhere to shower and refresh.
Breakfast in a sunny room downstairs was pleasant indeed, my table overlooked bustling Piccadilly. The menu is extensive, from a Full English to Eggs Florentine to fresh pastries. The coffee was also superb. The service was impeccable and leisurely and I wiled away an hour or so reading and planning my day. Afternoon tea is a cherished British tradition and there is little more lovely than treating yourself to some fancy cakes, scones and tea in a high-end London hotel. The Athenaeum does it particularly well, think deliciously seasonal sandwiches, puddings such as blueberry cheesecake, strawberries and cream roulade, scones, of course, and a range of exotic teas.
Another pleasing feature of the Athenaeum is its “ultimutt dog package” for those who want to holidays with their furry friend. Expect deep-filled wool bedding, handcrafted kiln-fired bowls and a range of treats – both edible and wearable – to take home, all courtesy of The Stately Hound. Upon arrival, dogs will be given their very own welcome amenities, including tasty treats and a stylish bowtie for walks in neighbouring Green Park as well as yummy treats such as steak tartare. The add-on VIP package costs £40 per pet per stay.
If you’re after a stylish sanctuary with really personalised service, a stellar location, great food and a bed so comfy you won’t want to leave, the Athenaeum needs to be on your list. For spa seekers, it’s a sweet spot, too. There is nothing uniform or chain-y about this place either, it’s also got tons of character. Come, stay, rest and relax.
Rooms at the Athenaeum start at about £436 per night including breakfast for summer 2021.
To discover more, visit: athenaeumhotel.com
All images courtesy of The Athenaeum
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