By Richard West
I am here to relieve your angst and ennui that often arises whence cometh that seasonal oxymoron, Summer Vacation. Your concern that the undiscovered city doesn’t deserve even an imaginary airline ticket; staying in the slight-run-downiness of Hotel Earle in “Barton Fink” instead of the promised “new and improved”; meals that have you thinking fondly of licorice pizza. A Groucho Marx quote is the trip’s coda: “I’ve had a wonderful evening but this wasn’t it.” Calm thyself. Admittance to the Land of Cockaigne, the land of plenty, is insured in three words: London, One Aldwych.
London, the great English city living in two time signatures at once: the urgent and the always. Aesthetically interesting, culturally enriching, eatfotainment from around the world. The past on every street, the future never too far away. One Aldwych, the perfectly located chic hotel. Stroll across the street, hike past Somerset House, and stand mid-Waterloo Bridge: downstream, The City, London’s new skyline, Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge; upstream, Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace. Betwixt and between these centers of money and power, One Aldwych on the edge of bustling Covent Garden. Inside, the eyegasmic Lobby Bar dominated by Andre Wallace’s “Boatman with Oars”, one of the hotel’s 350 modern art pieces; the hidden, comfy guest lounge; spa and large pool; the mezzanine’s Indigo restaurant, London’s first that is entirely gluten-dairy free without sacrificing tastes.
The rooms? Quiet, orchid-elegant, enveloping pillows /large bed, delivered newspapers, shower temperature gauge and a deep bathtub. In our experience, never a room next door sounding like boot camp in the chimp house. “Splendesdo”, writer Bill Bryson’s word when splendid proves too weak.
Here’s the summer lagniappe: if you book with One Aldwych, July 14-September 11, you can choose amongst relaxing (and learning) programs during their Summer Urban Retreat carte du jour. Many are free: in the Lobby Bar, drink reception Thursdays, live music Fridays; children’s films Saturdays (3:30), adults (6 p.m.) in the 30-seat screening room; on Fridays, a complimentary hour-and-half tour of Covent Garden led by one of England’s acclaimed Blue Badge guides. Not free but not much, a private tour of Somerset House’s Courtauld Gallery of Impressionist art; a different-from-the-public backstage tour of Theatre Royal Drury Lane; food and drink master classes led by exec chef Dominic Teague and mixologist Pedro Paulo. Note bene: contact the concierge for the tour bookings.
I chose Blue Badge guide Sophie Campbell’s splendesdo Covent Garden tour. Some highlights: brief histories of several of the area’s Shakespearienced 13 theaters, including the Lyceum, Royal Opera House, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane; a stop at The Lamb and Flag, one of London’s earliest pubs (first mention, 1722); the smaller, older St. Paul’s Church, opposite the Covent Garden Piazza, the “Actor’s Church” with memorials of past greats inside and two remaining gas lamps outside; near the Seven Dials intersection, Neal’s Yard, original home of the city’s organic food shops; opposite the Royal Opera House, the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court (est. 1740) bringing to mind Dickens’ Inspector Bucket in “Bleak House,” Britain’s first fictional detective.
Apres-tour and a rest, dinner at One Aldwych’s Indigo: cured Loch Duart salmon appetizer; the 28-day dried aged grass-fed Scottish beef with accompanying hand-cut chips, truffle mayo, a leaf salad; a Chateau Mazetier 2014 Bordeaux; finally, a caramelized banana, custard, bitter chocolate sorbet.
The One Aldwych experience perhaps will summon up poet Philip Larkin’s verse on a summer holiday: “You’re as fine as summer weather/May to August all in one/And the clocks, when we’re together/Count no shadows, only sun.”