Six Reasons Why I’ll Keep Returning to the Athenaeum in London
By Melissa Coleman
In my recent daydreams of moving to London, the flat of my imaginings looks suspiciously similar to the residence suites at the Athenaeum, a five-star Mayfair hotel with adjoining Victorian town homes.
Alas, while to live there may only be a dream, I found it imperative to return and inspect the completion in November of a multi-million pound refurbishment. Here’s why I’ll be back again:
1) The Friendly Quirkily English Vibe
During an earlier stay with my twin 11 year-old girls in July, we fell in love with the Athenaeum Hotel & Residences even while renovations were underway. The tasteful 10-story building on Piccadilly has 134 rooms and 12 suites with views of Green Park and the Mayfair neighborhood. There’s also a top floor penthouse with a 180-degree panorama of London, plus 18 residences in the Victorian row buildings next door.
Regardless of the luxury label, the minute the girls and I arrived, we were made to feel right at home with the other families and (well-behaved) children in the updated lobby, completed in June. Family-owned, the hotel strives to provide glamour and playfulness, with a relaxed and quirkily English vibe, and it does just that. For more options for kids, see Travel Weekly.
The first floor entry on Piccadilly is expanded with floor-to-ceiling window views of the sidewalk patio and Green Park. As a result, the lobby is bright and well lit, with easy access to seating for the restaurant. The second level Gallery offers a more secluded public space for meetings with two private dining rooms.
Tasteful interior design by Kinnersley Kent includes carefully mismatched contemporary furniture and dynamic lighting features. We also enjoyed the memorable works of art to be found throughout the hotel. Favorites included a compelling collage map of London by Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams in the entry, and an iconic portrait of actress Joanna Lumley in the lobby.
2) Residence Suites in the Heart of London
Our residence suite—with kitchen (that includes a washer-dryer), classy living and dining areas, and separate bath and bedroom (featuring a Hypnos bed)—became our very own Mayfair flat. Lounging around “at home” almost took precedence over our explorations of London.
No matter, our immediate plans were a few minutes from our private entry. We were strolling distance to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, concerts in Hyde Park, the original Hard Rock Cafe, and the Green Park tube stop for voyages further afield. Victoria Station, Big Ben, and the River Thames were all within a 30-minute walk as well.
3) The Updated REN Spa
Yet another bonus, the new REN Spa, was complete when I returned in December. It didn’t take long to change into a robe and head for the spa to ease the wearies of travel. A full menu of services includes facials, mani-pedis, and massages in the two treatment rooms. There’s also a fitness center open to hotel guests round-the-clock.
The spa features two cedar-wood hot tubs, a steam room, and dry sauna. I spent at least an hour in rotation between the three. The atmosphere is relaxing yet social, with guests gathered on lounge chairs over champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
4) THE BAR at the Athenaeum
Once appropriately revived and ready to mingle, the newly completed BAR at the Athenaeum awaits with happy hour specials. Accessible from the lobby and an exterior entrance on Down Street, the sleek space is a melting pot of hotel guests and London nightlife.
Highlights include the Vermouth and whisky collections, and special engraved glasses for signature cocktails created by bar mastermind Giancarlo Mancino. Settle in at one of the sunken window nooks on a sofa with the lighted greenery of the exterior Living Wall in the alcove beyond. After a Basilico Mojito, or two, it feels as if you’ve been transported to a tropical garden.
5) 24-Hour Fine Dining
Next stop is dinner at the Galvin at the Athenaeum restaurant adjacent to the lobby. It’s now refurbished to a brighter décor and more exclusive atmosphere. The new menu by Michelin-starred chefs and brothers, Chris and Jeff Galvin, focuses on locally sourced fresh and organic British produce and cuisine. Some standouts include lasagna with Dorset crab and beurre Nantais, the Galvin fish pie, and root vegetable Wellington with chanterelles.
It was tempting to eat at the Galvin pretty much all day. Breakfast is at 7am, lunch at noon, tea beginning at 12:30pm, and dinner from 6pm to 10:30pm. Room service is also a must for the complimentary breakfast included with most packages. The classy presentation under silver dome is reason enough. Don’t forget to try the English classic (though not to my taste)—black pudding.
6) Easy Access to Everything
Yes, I’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating that the charms of London are so easily walkable. Even on a tight schedule, I quickly found gifts for family and friends at the many shops just down Piccadilly. And I still had time to stop at the Royal Academy of Arts for a show that included Jackson Pollock. I also managed to visit the pubs and restaurants of nearby Shepherd Market.
Returning “home” is easy—you can’t miss the 10-story Living Wall by artist Patrick Blanc on the exterior at Down Street. Nor can you miss extra-tall doorman, Jim Burns, in his signature top hat, a familiar and beloved fixture on Piccadilly.
To get to the airport, I opted to walk to the Green Park Underground instead of idling in a taxi in Mayfair congestion. From there it’s one stop to Victoria Station and the 30-minute Gatwick Express. All told, it took about 45 minutes from hotel to terminal.
Even if I can’t move into a residence suite just yet, the Athenaeum is an ideal—and now compellingly refurbished—destination for repeat visits.
As the saying there goes: “We say goodbye as a friend just for now, because we like to think you’ll come back soon.”
If You Go:
The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ
Current specials include seven nights for the price of five, and a 15 percent early booking discount. See https://www.athenaeumhotel.com for details.
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.