LONDON — When the doors to legendary Brown’s Hotel swing open, I feel like I’m about to walk into the pages of a book — one whose chapters are filled with romance, intrigue, suspense, mystery, fantasy and even comedy.
Goodness knows, a Who’s Who of literary legends have contributed to Brown’s story over the centuries. For instance, Rudyard Kipling, author of such classics as The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King, first stayed at Brown’s on his honeymoon and returned frequently because he found it an inspiring place to write. In fact, it was from Brown’s that Kipling was rushed to a nearby hospital in 1936, where he sadly died a few days later.
Other noted authors, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Bram Stoker, Agatha Christie and even modern-day horror novelist Steven King have all called Brown’s home when staying in the British capital.
And “home” is probably the best word to describe comfy Brown’s, whose refurbished interior — it underwent a multi-million dollar facelift when it became part of the prestigious Rocco Forte Hotel Group in 2003 —is the perfect blend of Old English comfort and Italian sophistication, complete with Florentine chandeliers.
Above: Guests get a warm reception at Brown's thanks to its lobby area that's wrapped in bold tropical wall coverings.
Long-time staff at Brown’s tell me “guests like our modern and comfortable way of being old fashioned.”
A card, which managing director Stuart Johnson greets guests with, tells this yarn: “At which hotel do you stay in London?” a gentleman was once asked. To which the gentleman replied: “I didn’t stay at a hotel, I stayed at Brown’s.”
This hotel truly is a home away from home, a fact that Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte’s head designer had to take into consideration when she headed up the all-star team assigned the challenging task of modernizing Brown’s, which reopened in 2004 after the extensive facelift.
Polizzi, who is Rocco Forte’s sister, worked alongside interior design legends Adam Ellis and Inge Moore and their collaborative efforts created a classic that does not compromise the property’s original Victorian charm.
Polizzi pays homage to Brown’s literary past with a Jungle Book theme throughout the lower reception area — bold tropical wall coverings blend beautifully with aged oak panelling and brightly upholstered chairs. The front hall (lobby) area is bathed in natural light, thanks to the addition of a skylight during renovations, and a fireplace guarantees guests a warm reception.
Above: The Kipling Suite is named in honour of the great writer who was a regular guest at Brown's.
Oh, but if only if Polizzi’s botanical walls could talk … they would reveal the secrets behind Queen Victoria’s many visits to Brown’s for high tea, the times Sir Winston Churchill would drop by for a cocktail during the Blitz, why Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt chose to spend their honeymoon here, the excitement generated the day in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call in London from Brown’s, and why crime writer Agatha Christie based one of her best known books — At Bertram’s Hotel — on Brown’s.
The hotel’s opening chapter reads like a scene out of Downton Abbey; James Brown and Sarah Willis, longtime butler and maid to Lord and Lady Byron, fall in love, get married and the Byrons bankroll the couple’s purchase of a townhouse at 23 Dover St., which they turn into London’s first hotel in 1837.
Brown’s is an overnight success and quickly expands — townhomes 21, 22 and 24 are purchased to become part of the hotel in 1838, which explains the uneven floors as I walk the hallways. A total of 11 charming Victorian townhouses now make up Brown’s, which, after the purchase of the St. Georges Hotel behind it by a later owner, extends from Dover St. through to Albemarle St. Those two streets, along with Old Bond St., were the first designated thoroughfares in London.
Above: Brown's Donovan Bar and it's Naughty Corner, right, are where the chic of Mayfair like to be seen.
Brown’s 33 luxury suites and 82 well-appointed rooms are why the property remains one of the most desired addresses in posh Mayfair. Even millennial travellers find historic Brown’s meets all their modern needs, thanks to free WiFi, 49-inch Samsung Smart TVs and the USB ports in every room.
The most famous of all Brown’s suites is the Kipling. A “cheeky monkey” — the hotel’s mascot — guards the entrance to the palatial suite, which contains a handwritten letter from the great storyteller and the desk he once wrote on. The suite’s grand entrance leads to a spacious sitting room featuring antique furnishings and museum-worthy paintings — the hotel is in the heart of London’s art district, after all. The suite comes wrapped in exquisite green and gold hand-painted wall coverings and drifts off into a master bedroom anchored by an overstuffed king bed and walk-in closet. Italian Arabescato marble adorns the bathroom, which features a free-standing tub. It’s easy to see why Kipling was inspired to write here.
Keeping true to its original butler and maid roots, service remains a high priority at Brown’s. Staff are quick to respond to your every whim and in-room service is impeccable. As an added feature, Brown’s provides guests with limo service for quick trips around Mayfair — in a Bentley, no less!
The high service level extends to the hotel’s famed dining and drinking spots; lest we forget Brown’s was the first London hotel to offer public dining.
Above: Brown's main dining room is Charlie's and the menu is a gastronomic delight for guests.
Charlie’s, Brown’s main dining room, is governed by Michelin-star Chef Adam Byatt and is renowned for its haute cuisine British fare. The room’s Dover sole with caper butter provides an orgasmic delight for your taste buds that can’t be matched at any other London restaurant.
The hotel’s Drawing Room restaurant off the Albemarle St. entrance remains London’s most desired location for traditional afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones and strawberry preserves. Yum!
But it’s The Donovan Bar that draws lots of high praise from people who visit Brown’s. It’s named after famed photographer Sir Terrance Donovan and decorated with many of his iconic black and white celebrity photos from the Swinging ’60s. A massive photo of 1960’s super model Twiggy dominates the bar. It’s cocktail menu consists of 16 high-powered concoctions — it’s most famous is the one named in honour of Sir Winston Churchill.
Donovan is especially busy after work with young executives celebrating their latest big deal and after hours with Mayfair’s most stylish partygoers. The bar’s “Naughty Corner” is always in high demand. The tiny nook features a backdrop of salacious nude and semi-nude photographs and is an oasis of playful decadence.
The never-ending story of Brown’s continues to evolve but the hotel remains a bestseller with visitors to London because it truly is a classic.
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