There have been many articles written and photos published of the almost newly-restored hotel at London’s St Pancras station in recent weeks but they do little justice to the building once you actually get inside it.
Compared with all other leisure-related buildings – hotels, restaurants, shops and shopping centres – that I’ve encountered it beats the lot by some way. If it’s not a massive success then I’d be very surprised.
I admit this topic is a slight diversion from the usual fayre you’ll find on Retailinsider.com but since I was fortunate enough to be taken on a personal tour of the hotel by its owner Harry Handelsman I thought it worth sharing some insights. [Apologies at this stage for the quality of the photos – I’m a writer not a photographer].
Handelsman has been the driving force behind the restoration of the Victorian gothic building that dates back to 1869 and which is close to being brought fully back to life as a hotel again.
He has been involved with the building since 1998 and between then and now has had to ride the property rollercoaster, with prices crashing and banks unwilling to help finance the restoration that has cost him a total of £200 million.
Much of this has been spent on bringing back to life the original features of the impressive building. The place is packed full of details that architrect George Gilbert Scott put into the original works at a total of £438,000. The equivalent today would be around £750 million. A fair sum for a hotel.
The grandest rooms in the hotel – that is being run by Marriott under its Renaissance umbrella – are the 50 suites in the original old building. (The other 194 are in a new wing). Each suite is very different from the others as Handelsman has taken advantage of their unique structural features.
Among the various suites is the premier room – the Gilbert Scott suite – that is a full restoration of the original room.
All guests in these rooms have access to their own designated area ‘The Club’ that has its own lounge area on the ground floor alongside a barbers that has master barber and wet shave wizard Carmelo Guastella in charge of the sharp things.
The public areas are equally grand with the old booking office housing a bar/restaurant – 80 covers inside and the same number on the station concourse. This will open from 6:30am and likely stay open until 1am – although it has a rare 24 hour alcohol license so all bets are on.
The main restaurant – to be run by acclaimed chef Marcus Wareing – has an adjoining bar that will be accessible from the Euston Road and is currently being fitted out.
It’s a similar story with the kitchen ahead of the April 4 opening of the restaurant.
The kitchen has a chef’s table seating up to eight or 10 people, which uniquely will also be bookable by individuals or couples who will share it with other diners.
There are also various function rooms with the piece de resistance being the Ladies’ Smoking Room that is one of the many rooms that have staggeringly detailed ceilings. it also has floor-to-ceiling doors that open onto an outside balcony.
There is little disguising the enthusiasm and love for the building that Handelsman has as his grand project heads towards completion. He speaks of budgets having “shot up and shot up” as hundreds of craftsmen have handpainted 2,000 fleur de lys on the walls, and recreated the original carpets that even have a ‘worn effect’ incorporated into them.
The whole experience of walking around the hotel provides a great antidote to the blandness of so many other buildings that the public have to put up with when eating and shopping etcetera.
This is clearly a unique building but you have to question just how many other publicly-used buildings today are constructed with unique characteristics that will stand the test of time.
Thanks to George Gilbert Scott for creating this unique structure in the nineteenth centurty and for Harry Handelsman for bringing it back to life in the 21st century.
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