In 1889, the British capital's first luxury hotel opened. Emulating the modern facilities found in American hotels, the Savoy was the first establishment in London to boast electric lifts – known as 'ascending rooms' – electric lighting and en-suite bathrooms in almost every room. Now, after a major restoration that has lasted three long years and cost over £100 million, the elegant doors are reopening: once more, the Savoy is set to impress with its opulence, technology and style.
Famous for hosting movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Errol Flynn, in 2007 the hotel closed its doors for the first time in its long history. More than 3,000 items of furniture were auctioned, and an ambitious renovation project begun which was to include the entire building, the courtyard, guest rooms and public areas. The intention was to restore the lustre and prestige lost in recent decades and return the hotel to its rightful place among the best hotels in the world.
The architect in charge of this project was Pierre Yves Rochon, whose specialist experience of luxury hotels and restaurants includes work on the George V in Paris and L'Hotel Hermitage in Monaco. His task was to combine the aesthetics of the original Edwardian building with the Art Deco style introduced in the Twenties and Thirties and blend them with the most modern of technological know-how in seamless luxury, and more than a thousand craftsmen have worked to realise this vision.
The refurbished hotel boasts 268 rooms including a stunning royal suite which costs a staggering £10,000 pounds a night. It has one of the very few rooftop pools in the capital, and the rooms are equipped with the latest technology, such as mirrors that turn into TV screens.
No doubt, though, the Savoy's greatest asset is its history. Great artists such as Monet and Whistler painted the view of the Thames from the Savoy windows. Oscar Wilde stayed there with Lord Alfred Douglas and George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells were among the customers of the hotel's American Bar. Marilyn Monroe gave her first press British press conference here, Winston Churchill and his cabinet lunched there regularly during the Second World War, and the first public appearance of the Princess Elizabeth - later to be Queen Elizabeth - and Prince Philip of Greece was at a Savoy reception.
The Savoy has always been famous for its traditions and idiosyncrasies. We must assume that there will be no intentional flooding of the courtyard to recreate the delights of Venice, as happened at the 1905 Gondola Party, but vehicles entering and leaving Savoy Court are still obliged to drive on the right – the only street in the UK where this is the case – and Kaspar, the black wooden cat will still be available to occupy an empty space at table to prevent the bad luck that threatens any group of 13 diners.