Review by Fiona Duncan, published 12th December 2011.
ometimes hotel life is so irritating. I was luxuriating in the bath before dinner at The Athenaeum, when ping-ping-ping went the doorbell. I ignored it, as you do, but after a blissful pause it pinged again and I staggered forth, wrapped, dripping, in a towel. "I do turn down, madame?" "Not just now, thank you."
Talking of bathrooms, that sliver of marble was more suited to a Mayfair bachelor than a family, which was apposite because I was there to check out the hotel in particular as a place to stay on a family break to London. The Athenaeum has bedrooms (lovely and light, all with floor-to-ceiling windows and divine Hypnos beds), many overlooking Green Park, but along Down Street it also has useful apartments.
These have recently been refurbished with a sophisticated touch, with large living room, dining table, slick kitchenette (including washing machine) and bunk or pull-out beds for children under 12. They benefit from full room and maid service and start at £495 on a Christmas package for a spot of family luxury in a prime location. On hand for the children, and free, are board games and birdseed, bikes and scooters, and kites to fly in the park. Children eat free if their parents are ordering (special menu) and the parents, hopefully not the children too, will be happy with the complimentary champagne and wine (plus snacks and soft drinks) in the minibar.
All of which might make you imagine a hotel that looks, as well as feels, family friendly. I fear not. When it comes to the public rooms, I have no idea what today's Athenaeum is trying to be. A shiny haven for wealthy Arabs? A Hollywood poodle parlour? I may have been in the heart of London, but as soon as I walked into the glossy, silver-and-pink lobby, I lost my sense of place. I can find no nod to an establishment that has existed since the mid-19th century, unless it's meant to recall the droves of Hollywood stars who used to stay here when the hotel was orchestrated during the Eighties and Nineties by celebrated general manager Sally Bulloch, who held court each evening and of whom Michael Douglas remarked, "knowing Sally is like getting your raincoat caught in a fast-departing roller-coaster".
There are mirrored pillars, velvet sofas, side tables made of glass and leather in the shape of old trunks, sliding screens plastered with shiny silver buttons, a Perspex wall-hanging decorated with girlie roses. A whisky bar may be a masculine idea, but even this manages to look feminine.
In the Garden Room (which doubles at night as a "pudding parlour" for help-yourself puddings – a good idea for après-theatre goers), sober-suited business guests working on their laptops look comically out of place in seating areas divided by swathes of curtaining and framed by exotic pink cacti in huge glass vases.
To sum up: the apartments are a definite draw for families, but the new-look Athenaeum left me scratching my head.
- 116 Piccadilly, London W1J (020 7499 3464). Doubles and singles from £191 per night; breakfast £27.50; apartments from £399. Access possible for guests with disabilities
The Athenaeum is located opposite Green Park, with Mayfair and Shepherd Market behind and Hyde Park Corner, Hyde Park and Knightsbridge a stroll away to the west and Piccadilly Circus to the east.
Shepherd Market is a charming, village-like enclave which has always enjoyed a risqué reputation. Nowadays it has fine Victorian pubs and restaurants (notably Al Hamra, long established Lebanese; Le Boudin Blanc, a very French bistro; and the L'Autre Polish-Mexican, eclectic and family friendly serving hearty dishes from both countries, especially game and fish), as well as little shops such as Bill Amberg, selling luxury bags; J & C Martin, selling handmade jewellery for all budgets; Georgina Goodman Shoes; and Tanner Krolle traditional leather luggage.
Around Green Park
Bordered by Constitution Hill, Piccadilly and Queen's Walk, Green Park is more peaceful than its neighbour St James's Park, with mature trees and grassland. Children can cycle on the paths. A few minute's from the park and the Athenaeum is the Royal Academy, showcasing major art exhibitions. Fortnum & Mason is good to window shop and wander, especially at Christmas, with its magical window displays. And the Christmas lights of Regent Street and Oxford Street, and the world famous toy store, Hamleys, are a few minutes farther on.
Note that a "Social Saturday" is hosted at the Academy at the beginning of each exhibition that involve film screenings, painting, drawing, photography, story reading and so forth. Food and drink are served.