It seems that hotels are cool again. If I cast my mind back to my 'naughties' (in every sense of the word) PR days, all the coolest bars used to be in hotels. The Met Bar at the Metropolitan (formerly the coolest club in London), The Light Bar at the St.Martin's Lane Hotel (the original uber-modern London hotel) and Zeta Bar at the Hilton, originally a cool (yet juice-themed!) bar now known as Whisky Mist, were all cool places to be seen and this notion has definitely made a comeback for 2014.
It's the same with restaurants - Gordon Ramsay at the Savoy, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental, (who have also just launched their sensational, world class, outside catering division). Most of the (clever) celebrity chefs have attached themselves to key five star hotels, or vice versa, and the marriage is working. Asia de Cuba at St.Martin’s Lane was a relatively early incarnation and remains a firm favourite ever since I ate such beautifully moorish (and gloriously rich) food with some key clients at dinner several years ago and had to disappear (fast) to the (very plush) loo where I remained for quite some time!
The new Cucina Asellina and STK at ME London are both incredible restaurants in their own right and, for corporate gatherings of any size, STK have introduced the STK Experience in their equally stunning and versatile in-house event spaces. There may be a long waiting list for STK, but the STK Experience can be booked for corporate groups subject to event space availability, even at short notice.
In the early years of medium to large scale corporate entertaining, hotels were the only real option, just like in Dubai today (although that’s primarily due to licensing). They were dominant mainly because they were the only venues in town with any level of service, aside from restaurants which had simply not got their heads around catering for anyone but high-end consumer customers.
Large groups in restaurants were, by and large, a somewhat unwelcome distraction which conspired to detract from the overall atmosphere of the restaurant in question. Hotels also had the best little black books on the entertainment front and, you'd lose that incentive too if you dared to go 'off-piste'. How things have changed. Quite simply, alternative venues were not viable...erm...alternative venues. At least not compared to hotels, which remained the safe and reliable option.
Then venue owners cottoned on to why they were losing so much business. Event caterers learnt how to mimic and recreate the quality of hotel restaurant food too, and this proved a lethal combination, especially when they teamed up from a marketing perspective to mutual benefit. Suddenly, every warehouse, doghouse and outhouse was a unique venue space for the ever more demanding events trade. What's more, hotels were old hat and unfashionable for the first time. We'd all been there and done that, because they'd become complacent and, as a result, boring.
However, the honeymoon is over and, with the current trend of quality over quantity in terms of events, the discerning corporate sector rightly demands world class treatment. It is recognised that hotels can deliver this essential level of service, quality and comfort resulting in a highly positive experience for their guests. Between the coolest bars, the finest restaurants and versatile event spaces, which benefit from the aforementioned attributes, hotels have it all and are, once again, the place to be.
With that in mind, here are our...
Top 10 Hotel Bars
(all available for groups or events)
1. The Connaught Bar, Connaught Hotel
The Cubist 1920's Connaught Bar at the Connaught Hotel. A classic old school haunt, in this newly (and beauifully) refurbished hotel. Just the way it should be. I heard a rumour that an aristocrat was singing the praises of Londonlaunch at this bar a couple of months ago, so it's obviously somewhere where people of great taste frequent!
2. Blue Bar at the Berkeley
This classic hotel has always been a stable of greatness, along with its big sister, Claridges. Very blue and suitably ice cool, with a warm welcome for all, whether you're a celebrity regular or an occasional visitor (voyeur) then the renaissance style Blue Bar is well worth dropping in to, particularly after a hard afternoon in Harvey Nicks!
3. Booking Office Bar, Renaissance St Pancras
Booking Office Bar at the Renaissance St Pancras. A slumbering giant for so many years (including the time when the Spice Girls recorded their first ever video - Wannabe - here many moons ago), this grand railway hotel has been revived and restored to its former glory, befitting of its position as the gateway to Europe (or the first place Europeans can get a drink when they arrive in London!) This bar feels like an outside atrium, in a similar (though rather more Victorian-industrial) way that the Winter Garden at the nearby Landmark does. For a really cool retro Victoriana (with a modern twist) experience, this place is inspired.
4. Dukes Bar, Dukes Hotel St James
This hotel bar boasts what is possibly the greatest Twentieth Century popular heritage in all of London. Ian Flemming used to hang out here (as well as in his Shropshire Country home in the wonderfully named 'Candy Valley' which happens to be adjacent to a friend of mine who sells chickens to schools and prisons the day before their sell by date, which makes him very rich, but that's another story!). Dukes Bar reportedly provided significant inspiration for his James Bond stories so it's a great place for a martini or two.
5. Long Bar at the Sanderson
A modern day icon, the Long Bar is a surreal, light and airy space filled with floaty muslin and, as you would expect, a very long bar! With eyes on the back of the bar chairs. I once recommended this place to friends for an Alice in Wonderland themed product launch due to its obvious surreal qualities. Still cool after all these years. Pioneering with daringly minimalist spaces.
6. Artesian at the Langham
Voted 'World's best bar' last year, Artesian conjures a sort of modern Chinoiserie feel which is both classical and contemporary, even timeless. This bar is smart, sophisticated and lavish, reflecting the grand hotel that houses it.
7. Mandarin Bar at Mandarin Oriental
As you would expect, this place is stunning. Super cool, super luxurious and an eclectic cocktail of oriental design combing wood, glass and steel to great effect. It's expensive but that's why you're in such good company when you're in here!
8. Oscar Bar at Charlotte Street Hotel
A regular meeting place for me (and many others!) this simple, modern hotel bar (with lovely red chairs) is always buzzing, day and night. With stylish and beautiful decor (the staple of any Firmdale Hotel) Oscar Bar is always welcoming, relaxing and the kind of place that can't help but inspire you.
9. Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London
Currently my favourite bar in London and my designated default hang out last summer, Radio is like a modern rattan-clad Mediterranean Riviera-style rooftop bar with possibly the best views in London. A sensational, exclusive yet relaxed and secluded place high above the Strand and the buzzing streets of London Town below.
See ME London's profile on Londonlaunch
10. W Lounge at the W Hotel
Possibly the most convenient place for a meeting (and a wee). I often pop in here to visit the heavily mirrored loos and almost always get confused and walk into the mirrored wall (I bet I'm not the only one!) This first floor reception area bar is really cool with its surprisingly tranquil atmos, it's modern minimalist decor and really cool hi-tech central fireplace. The W is a New York Icon and, although it houses the delightful smelling M&M World in the basement (like some kind of guilty secret) its rapidly becoming one of the coolest new go-to places in London.
...and a bonus at number 11 is the Marconi bar at ME London, especially as its the (very cool and contemporary) location of our next networking event.
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Oh, and the Millennium Mayfair hotel bar is worth a mention because I accidentally frequent it regularly for Mayfair based meetings and I enjoy referring to the bar as the Polonium Bar which, incidentally, it should officially be called following its two year closure for decontamination after the Litvinenko affair - yep, that's the bar it happened in. Talk about a nuclear meeting space! On reflection, how cool would it be if this bar was called, simply, “210”?
Will Broome CEO