An American Standard

A veteran hotel has updated its Americana for the 21st century

By: Jim Calio

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American Bar at The Stafford Hotel.
Someone once likened The Stafford to “a wealthy but slightly batty uncle who nevertheless values traditional Britishness and good taste.” That’s probably true, but the good news is that The Stafford, one of Small Luxury Hotels’ lovely boutique properties in London, revels in the reputation. It’s nothing if not eccentric, but in a fine tradition of British luxury.

Start with the property itself. There are 68 rooms and suites in the main building, all done up with an eye toward comfort and tastefulness. The color schemes are understated, some in cream and gold, and there are even dishes on the walls as decoration. But in a bow to modern times, there are also state of the art Wi-Fi and audio systems as well as both British and American electrical sockets. (There are also 12 beautifully restored rooms in The Carriage House, which is a converted 18th-century stable with original wood floors.)

In April, The Stafford opened its more modern wing called The Stafford Mews, a $43.9 million suites-only building with 26 separate units ranging from one to three rooms, with marble two-sink bathrooms, walk-in showers, wireless broadband, Bose CD radios and iPod docking stations. The six-story building also includes a penthouse suite with a private outdoor terrace.

All this, according to SLH spokesman Lanny Grossman, is about “bringing one of the quintessentially grande dames of London hotels into the modern 21st century. The property wants to keep its traditional base but also appeal to a new clientele with new suites, flat-screens and state-of-the-art amenities.”

The hotel has long been a favorite of U.S. visitors, who account for an estimated 70 percent of the property’s business. Repeat business of all kinds is put at 60 percent according to Grossman, a testament to the loyalty of guests over the years.

One of the main attractions of The Stafford is the famous American Bar, which was a favorite watering hole for American and Canadian officers stationed in London during World War II. During The Blitz, when air-raid sirens were frequent, they would repair to the vaulted wine cellar below, where there are still vestiges of that wartime activity a dusty canteen, a few ration books and some old posters are still in evidence. (The 350-year-old wine cellar, one of the best in London, was once connected to St. James Palace by a tunnel, which is how the Royals of bygone years got their booze.)

Today, the bar, which has undergone a $3.2 million renovation, boasts an odd collection of baseball caps, model planes, football helmets and ties, most of it hanging from the ceiling. The skeleton of a crocodile head and a set of shark jaws also greet visitors. There is a case which contains glasses supposedly drunk from by the Royals, and it is rumored that Prince William likes to drop in for a pint or two.

During the war, the hotel was also home to New Zealander Nancy Wade, who parachuted into France to support the Resistance and was known by the Germans as “The White Mouse” because she was so elusive. For years after the war, she lived in the hotel, holding court in what has now become known as “Nancy’s Corner.” Her drinks were free.

The Stafford will stop at nothing to burnish its eccentric reputaion, and at Christmas, some guests have even reported being greeted in the lobby by an electronic dancing Santa.

There will always be an England and apparently, The Stafford too.


The Stafford Hotel

Small Luxury Hotels of the World
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