Some things are so steeped in history that you feel they must have been there forever, a treasured institution at the heart of our Britishness.
The Savoy hotel is a good example. Only the Queen trumps it for elegant heritage.
It is also the ultimate showbiz hotel, complete with its own theatre and the destination for a staggering number of stars over the decades. And this year marks the 125th anniversary of its opening so, in celebration, guests have a bonus option. As well as savouring the feeling of luxury that comes alongside a stay at the Savoy, they can also explore its considerable and rather extraordinary history.
The Savoy Theatre actually came first. The hotel, now part of the Fairmont group, was built alongside it and caused a sensation when it opened in 1889. And no wonder. It was, after all, the first hotel to be lit by electricity and the first to have lifts known, rather charmingly as “ascending rooms”.
To discover all of this and more, guided tours by the Savoy’s archivist are available, or a visit round the Savoy’s museum. But if you don’t want to go quite that far, you can immerse yourself in the past via other routes, the hotel’s current cocktail menu being one of them. It features many libations that would be completely at home on the pages of a PG Wodehouse novel. Anyone for A Corpse Reviver? Vision’s of Bertie Wooster after a night on the sauce spring immediately to mind.
Indeed a Wodehouse character, Psmith, was said to be based on a member of the D’oyly Carte family, who built the Savoy.
On the August 6 anniversary there will be lots going on, including a lavish street party on Savoy Court. But we visited as spring took hold of London for a bright and breezy weekend, and we were in for a treat.
Our junior suite, which came complete with butler service, boasted the hotel’s only balcony, which gave us a majestic view over London looking towards the Shard and Canary Wharf, both of them dwarfing the Oxo Tower.
This was a hotel room bonus at any time of day, but in the evening it looked magnificent. There are not too many occasions in life when it is possible to sit drinking fizz by candlelight on a private balcony overlooking the amazing skyline of London - so we relished this one.
Downstairs, in the main reception rooms of the Savoy all is, of course, opulence. The Savoy Court entrance off The Strand sets the tone with its art deco details of polished silver and lacquered onyx. At the centre is a crystal fountain designed by Lalique.
In fact, designer Pierre Yves Rochon has lavished fine materials everywhere, from Murano glass chandeliers and silk wall coverings to Italian linen and marble floors. It means no two rooms or suites in the Savoy are the same, and many retain original features such as fireplaces.
Checking in sets the tone for the stay. You will not find yourself queuing with other clients - nothing so mundane - instead a doorman leads guests straight to a member of staff who will deal with the necessary there and then, but after that you will be free to take in the sight of an even greater centrepiece, in the form of the ornate gazebo standing in the Thames Foyer, an area often alive with the chatter of guests enjoying afternoon tea.
Off these reception areas are the Savoy’s great bars and restaurants: the American Bar is light and full of buzz, the Beaufort Bar is dark and dramatic with sophisticated cabaret accompanied by a pianist and cocktail waitresses in slinky dresses. The cocktails in each are ...far too drinkable.
The eating options are Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill, offering dining which is as informal as it gets at the Savoy, or Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill. Or there is the British institution Simpson’s In The Strand, for a taste of British cuisine. We opted for Kaspar’s and enjoyed outstanding fish and steak.
Everywhere there are reminders of the great names from the past who stayed at the hotel, many of whom seemed to head for the roof: there are in existence pictures of both Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin gazing across London from this vantage point.
Marilyn Monroe is pictured at the hotel too with Laurence Olivier when they gave a press conference for the film The Prince and The Showgirl. Marilyn is in a black dress with a sheer midriff panel, considered racy at the time, and in her white-gloved hands she holds a cigarette. It is a vintage vignette of considerable style. That must have been a big occasion but Laurence Olivier enjoyed an ever bigger occasion at The Savoy, meeting his wife Vivienne Leigh there. Basically, you name them and they stayed there from Marlon Brando to Jane Fonda, from Errol Flynn to Katherine Hepburn and from the Beatles to Bob Dylan. It makes walking around the Savoy’s corridors an evocative experience.
It is only right that a hotel with such an enchanting history should be in tip-top shape, and The Savoy certainly is, because of a massive three-year renovation. The place was ripped apart and put back together again in a way that made the most of its past, dividing into a hotel of two halves, one side showcasing its Edwardian past with everything in keeping with the style of this era. On the other side all is art deco in homage to the hotel’s jazz age, with glossy, dark mirrored surfaces and the clean flowing lines of that period. History and luxury - it’s a very British combination.
The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU, can be contacted on 020 7836 4343 or visit fairmont.com/savoy Stay two nights (May 23-25 or May 30-Jun 1) at the Savoy from £595 per person, for two adults sharing one room, including return flights to London from Leeds Bradford. For reservations visit ba.com or call 0844 493 0758.