Bloomsbury, a sprawling London neighborhood of leafy Georgian squares, was home to some of the 20th century’s most important artists, writers and intellectuals, including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and E. M. Forster. Known as the Bloomsbury Set, they helped shape the modern world, influencing everything from literature and politics to feminism and fashion. Now, a hundred years on, the renaissance of Bloomsbury is well underway as the area becomes a hot spot once again, with a whole new generation of glamorous hotels.
Leaning heavily on its Bloomsbury Set connections, this fabulous property starts with the flower-covered Mrs. Dalloway’s Terrace; an enclosed dining space where the opening line from Virginia Woolf’s famous novel has found its way onto the menu. Step inside and you might be in Virginia’s drawing room, with a crackling fire, William Morris wallpaper and Roger Fry portraits. The Coral Room, meanwhile, designed by Martin Brudnizki, has emerged as one of London’s great retro cocktail lounges, with beveled mirrors, potted palms, Murano chandeliers, a stunning marble bar and live jazz crooners. Downstairs in the Bloomsbury Club Bar, it’s all exposed wood and brick, dark leather and low lighting – just the place for dangerous liaisons and secret assignations. But the suites are what make this such a great hotel, managing to be both elegant and cozy, opulent yet intimate.
The grandest of Bloomsbury’s properties, the Rosewood occupies the former headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company; an Edwardian masterpiece whose central carriageway in the magnificent street façade leads into the calm of an interior courtyard, giving guests the sense of arriving at a private manor house. Design practice Tony Chi and Associates has brought some thrilling ideas to this Grade II-listed building, from the parchment reception desk and fabulous Mirror Room – where afternoon tea is served in high style – to the hotel’s bold modern art collection. On one side of the entrance passage is the Scarfes bar, with the atmosphere of a particularly glamorous gentlemen’s club, while on the other is the Holborn Dining Room, reminiscent of a grand Parisian brasserie.
A Victorian galleon occupying an entire city block, the Principal London stands at the very heart of Bloomsbury in one of the neighborhood’s most iconic buildings. Built in 1898, it was modeled on the Château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne and its lobby should be a national monument in itself, with its soaring vaults, marble columns and a grand staircase. The well-appointed rooms offer a fantastic people-watching spot over Russell Square, as does Neptune, the hotel’s buzzy new restaurant, which is winning plaudits for its exciting seafood-focused menu. Afterwards, head to Fitz’s, the flamboyant evening bar, for inventive cocktails.
Taking its name from the mandrake plant, said to have mystical properties, this hotel feels like a cross between a rather glamorous opium den and the HQ of a secret underground society. Contemporary artwork from the collection of the owner – Lebanese-born, London-based Rami Fustok – sits alongside masks, figurines and curious objets d’art in an atmosphere that is quirky and playful. At the heart of the hotel is a courtyard draped with jasmine and passion flowers, shaded by two towering palm trees. The adjoining restaurant, Serge et le Phoque, is an outpost of the Michelin-starred establishment of the same name in Hong Kong – don’t miss the fabulous ceviche topped with edible flowers.
A former Baptist chapel may not sound like the most promising venue for a new luxury hotel themed around notions of decadence, but designer Jacques Garcia, famous for his work on Hôtel Odéon Saint-Germain in Paris, has pulled off a miracle. With a dark palette of plum, black, crimson and burnished gold, he has conjured a glamorous and seductive atmosphere in spaces that were once filled with the sound of sermons and hymns. Sumptuous bedrooms, with highlights in velvet and leather, exploit the building’s original Arts and Crafts features – ornately carved fireplaces, plastered ceilings and rich oak paneling.