London has no shortage of luxury hotels, but when a classic five-star property, and one of my favorites in the city, gets ready to unveil a whole new look, it’s big news. The Athenaeum, perfectly located on Piccadilly across from Green Park in Mayfair, debuts its redesign in late June.
The new look is evident in all of the public spaces of the hotel. The hotel’s ground floor, façade and entrances are being transformed with large, double-height floor-to-ceiling windows that will fully take advantage of the hotel’s enviable and pretty location.
Kinnersley Kent Design, one of Britain’s most prestigious design firms, with a client list that includes the Historic Royal Palaces, Heidi Klein, Fortnum & Mason, Marks & Spencer and Mercedes-Benz, led the project.
The family-owned boutique Athenaeum has been rooted in Mayfair since 1850, but the new interior is decidedly 2016 modern with clean lines that are more Scandinavian minimalism than Victorian fussy. The result is an open, airy feeling that seems to bring the flow of Zen created by the hotel’s outdoor “living wall,” inside.
The hotel’s main entrance now stands on the corner of the building, in the shade of the hotel’s iconic Living Wall installation. A separate entrance around the corner leads straight to the new bar. The bar will be run by Italian bartender Giancarlo Mancino and will feature craft cocktail twists on classic drinks. The space is a charming, intimate area, with one side made almost entirely of glass, again invoking that ‘inside out’ feeling with views of the Living Wall. By opening up the ground floor, the common areas now flow beautifully into one another.
The furnishings give a subtle nod to the Athenaeum’s Art Deco roots with plush velvet sofas, a bespoke marble bar and hand-crafted Venetian screens.
The other big news with the redesign is the addition of a celebrity chef-driven restaurant helmed by Britain’s beloved Michelin-star chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin. Galvin at The Athenaeum will focus on the seasonal classics that the brothers are known for, this time with a fully British flavour. I still remember a decadent lunch at the Galvin’s La Chappelle several years ago, so I’ll be anxious to try this one out on my next visit.
The restaurant menu will feature classic British dishes as well as incorporating well-known Galvin favorites such as the Galvin smoked salmon and steak tartare with toasted sourdough. The brothers have also created their own afternoon tea menu, something the hotel has a longstanding and award-winning reputation for serving.
During my stay in February I saw bits and pieces of the remodel, but it was still very much a work in progress. One of the areas that isn’t changing are the rooms, which are just as lovely as they were when I stayed several years ago.
I’m in a Park View room, which, as the name suggests, overlooks Green Park. I can see the London Eye and Big Ben from the window, too. For London, the room is a spacious 275 square feet and has the little niceties like robes, slippers and Nespresso that make a hotel rooms stand out for me.
What always makes the entire hotel experience stand out for me are people and service, and despite all the new things coming to the Athenaeum, thankfully Jim Burns, the six feet six inches tall instantly recognizable doorman, isn’t going anywhere. Jim’s jovial and helpful personality and the figure he cut in his hunter green formal uniform, was imprinted on my brain from my first stay, and I’m not the only one. Jim tells me he’s made friends around the world doing this job for the past 26 years. One couple is even from my hometown of Scottsdale, and he’s been out to see them in Arizona four times since the 1980s. But the Athenaeum almost missed out on Jim.
“I was a night porter at the Waldorf Astoria when they tried to recruit me for this job,” he said. “I didn’t want it because I thought at six feet six inches I’d stand out like a sore thumb.”
The inherently shy Jim decided that instead of being Jim at the Athenaeum he could do the job if he played the role of a doorman. When he’s at work, the introvert becomes an extroverted, jovial, joking character that Jim thinks people expect in a doorman. He even grew out these gnarly sideburns to complete his character. Talk about your method actors!
Jim isn’t the first “actor’ to grace the halls of the Athenaeum. It is one of the hottest hotels in the city for celebrities, to the point that Hollywood Reporter George Christy quipped that there were “more movie stars to be seen in London’s Athenaeum Hotel than in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.” Everyone from Harrison Ford to Charlton Heston, Michelle Pfeiffer to Mick Jagger passed through the hotel’s doors. Oscar-winning film director Steven Spielberg even had an editing suite installed in his apartment at the hotel when working on ET, Close Encounters and Indiana Jones.
To be one of the first to stay at the newly remodeled Athenaeum you can book online at https://www.athenaeumhotel.com/.