Brown's Hotel, London $$$$
Concierge.com's insider take:
This genteel hotel, established in 1837 by Lord Byron's valet and then bought by James Ford, is famous for hosting the first-ever phone call, when Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his invention, and for being Mowgli's birthplace—Kipling wrote The Jungle Book here. Reopened in December 2005 after a $30 million–plus overhaul, its future is now as bright as its past. Credit Sir Rocco Forte, whose generally divine group of luxury properties benefits from his designer sister Olga Polizzi's eye. Though choice fittings like oak paneling, stained glass, and gilt mirrors have been preserved, the musty Victoriana has disappeared. The 117 guest rooms are handsome in shades of tobacco, wine, and cream (this always was a gentleman's retreat), with clean-lined custom furniture and some mid–20th-century vintage pieces. The Donovan Bar—riffing off Berlin's Helmut Newton Bar—has Brit photographer Terence Donovan's work on the walls and a leather bar by Bill Amberg. Even the Grill has gone contemporary, dropping its stuffy dress code, but still offering a daily roast. A gym and spa (now open to nonresidents) are there to work off scones from the famous Brown's tea. That's progress.
From the editors of Condé Nast Traveler:How do you respect the beloved Victorian backbone of this historic landmark while updating it for the twenty-first century? In short, spend $33 million to make the comfort in the 117 rooms deep-dish but low-key, with ash-gray worsted-wool upholstery, a bit of op art, low lighting, potted orchids, and large baths with pie-plate showerheads. Add a slightly clubby tone to the service—the top-hatted doorman, for example—a discreet lobby, a large bar (essential), a tea room, and a grill. The new spa's not quite in keeping with the Bruce Chatwin meets the Rat Pack mood of the place, and the service errs on the side of Euro-priggishness, but otherwise this is one swell place to hang your hat.
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When to go: London is a year-round destination, but spring through fall has the best weather.
Which room to book: Those on the fifth floor are brightest and quietest, especially if you get a junior suite like No. 516, which overlooks an interior courtyard instead of busy Albemarle Street (doubles, $514–$1,037).
Amenities: 24-hour Room Service, Bar/lounge, Gym, SpaSubscribe now to Condé Nast Traveler for just $1 an issue! ›
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