Everyone in London lives in their own version of the city. Mine is a triangle, connected by Highbury Tube, Beigel Bake on Brick Lane and various bars in Hackney Wick – but away from all that I find myself most often in Mayfair. It’s where meetings take place, and parties happen. Or used to. I make the journey on the Victoria Line to Green Park more often than any other, and the glow of the lettering spelling out THE RITZ on Piccadilly makes me feel warm and fuzzy. It feels like home.
This week, staying at The Mayfair Townhouse on the first night it was open to paying guests felt apposite – a chance to take stock of life in the city during the festive season. This is a new hotel from the team behind Chewton Glen – favourite weekend retreat of shires-loving couples. Like everything in 2020, its opening has been delayed. Repeatedly. Its first few days of existence have also been dampened by the legal requirement for “substantial meals” in the cocktail bar. Head barman Pierpaolo Monaco assured me he had been doing brisk trade in artichoke croquettes and arancini balls to appease government logic. Come the revolution, the Dandy Bar at the Townhouse is going to be one of my favourite places in the neighbourhood: its jewel-like interior of mirrors, leather and fin de siècle glitz is as comforting as the cocktails are delicious. Monaco is doing kooky and clever things with Dubonnet, black walnut bitters and pistachio soda, and while there isn’t a restaurant per se, there is a comfort food menu. Sometimes all you want is a basic, brilliant white bread club sandwich with a plate of chips.
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The Mayfair Townhouse has reconfigured a stretch of 15 private Georgian homes on Half Moon Street. It’s been done well, and service is attentive. Often, places that want to be your “home from home” leave you bewildered in abandoned lounges, wondering how to conjure up a pot of coffee. And unless you are Dylan Thomas in the 1950s, about to slide into an alcoholic coma for the last time in the Chelsea Hotel, it is not really your home.
There are club rooms below the main bar, with contemporary Wedgwood-inspired frescoes, and a sexy little red snug decorated with framed pictures of foxes. Around the corner: an oil painting of Byron holding an iPad. There is nothing avant-garde or scary on the walls, although I have seen more than enough sub-Tim Walker fashion photography with white girls in implausible ball gowns pasted into decrepit grandeur through the Photoshop equivalent of toddler-safe, round-edged scissors.
The first thing you encounter when you walk into the lobby is a stuffed peacock covered in Swarovski crystals. Heavy sigh. I could get really Roland Barthes about what this means in a 2020 interior, but let’s move on and say that actually, I really quite like the brass fox heads on each bedroom door.
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My suite had a cute little terrace that would be welcome in summer, and a big green velvet sofa cased in a split-cane frame. As well as Oscar Wilde analogies, there are lots of butterflies and floral motifs. Crucially, the beds couldn’t be more comfortable, and my bathroom – with lavish butterflied marble panelling – had a great tub. I spent a long time immersed and reflecting on all things Mayfair in that bath, listening to the comforting sound of the Victoria Line rumble underground.
On the way to the hotel, I had paid my annual festive pilgrimage to Fortnum’s, just around the corner. I forget it exists from January to November, but around the time when I remember I have Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You on Spotify, I have a sudden hankering for elaborately packaged biscuits. This year, the facade of Fortnum’s has been turned into a giant advent calendar, with “2020” writ large and lit up.
Hotels are like little bubbles of escapism and luxury, and right now they are more of a luxury than ever. On one of the afternoons I was at The Mayfair Townhouse, I met a friend for coffee. She has spent most of the year paralysed with fear, and does only what Boris Johnson tells her. We shivered in sub-zero temperatures outside a café at the top of Shepherd Market, as she was unable to join me for a substantial meal and a martini around the corner. She says she can hang on until “everything is OK again” before resuming something of a social life. I am happier to leave 2020 outside and sit things out in a luxury bubble. Life is too short.
Doubles from £312 per night. There is one fully accessible room (020 8138 3400; themayfairtownhouse.com).