It may be sacrilegious (or at the very least deeply unoriginal) to mention The Shining’s Overlook Hotel in an article of this sort. But when you step inside the lobby of The Beaumont, which has just quietly reopened down on Brown Hart Lane in Mayfair, you’re greeted by the not-unpleasant-but-quite-uncanny sense that you’ve very much been here before. Not necessarily in the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc way, where the staff salute you with a beaming ‘welcome home’ even if it’s your first time. (A nifty touch, but it must get confusing for some of the more complacent visiting plutocrats.“Wait, do we own this one too?”) No: at The Beaumont, the feeling is more akin to re-visiting — and I know how this sounds — a past life. One of my best friends recently spent two hours and two hundred pounds with a tie-dyed lady in West Oxfordshire, who took him through the steps of some pretty intensive past life regression therapy. He discovered that he had been both a sailor with a large beard, and also one of Isaac Newton’s close assistants. (Ben can’t grow a beard, and was terrible at physics at school. Psychoanalysis done.)
But in the lobby of The Beaumont, far more debonair former selves flicker before you, especially if you’ve had the right strength of negroni. (Antonino Lo Iacono, formerly the bar honcho at Mark’s Club, is the medicine man here.) Perhaps a Hollywood Golden Age studio magnate, in double-breasted pyjamas and a pince-nez. Or the wayward scion of some New York robber baron, exquisitely haired and terrible at poetry. Or a big-slugging baseball star, over in quaint little London for some experimental shoulder therapies and, why not, some experimental cabaret, too. In the giant, vintage black and white group photographs that pop up around the place (there is a particularly pleasing and huge one that shows a Venice Beach International Swimsuit Competition from the 1920s — like some wonderful school photograph with swimming hats and cigarette holders) you half expect to see your own face beaming back at you, as Jack Nicholson’s did in that lingering final frame of The Shining. Different but the same; at home in another era; apparently happier than you’ve ever been before or since.
Could just be a mirror. There’s a lot to like in the present day here, too. I’ve mentioned the negronis, which are served from the pleasingly named Le Magritte Bar to the left of the art deco lobby. (‘Art deco’ there is superfluous, actually. Unless I say otherwise, assume everything at The Beaumont is art deco in attitude. But not the post-Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby art deco of naff ‘prohibition’ cocktail bars and bad 21sts — the properly researched, wonderfully sourced, exquisitely executed real deal. Thierry Despont — great name, great start — the New York-based designer known for his love of this era, has seen to it that all the touches are true to the 1926 origins of the building itself. The rounded chairs in the lobby have been re-upholstered, to pick a detail at random, in ‘Ellington’: a period-perfect velour fabric popular in the Jazz Age.)
The food in the Colony Grill is very good, too, and often unique. Some of it seems beamed directly from the pages of Fitzgerald — dance cards, sad mistresses, that sort of thing — and might taste even better in spats. Where else could you get a thick white onion soup — creamy, chowdery, lovely — with a little grilled cheese finger sandwich to dunk in it? Or the joyous New York Shrimp cocktail, which comes arranged like some camp faux-Versailles fountain in West Egg?
But the centre-piece here is the eponymous grill, which harks back unapologetically to the red-blooded dining rooms of Manhattan and London in the late 1920s and early 30s. Here’s Nathaniel Newnham-Davies writing in his 1914 Gourmet Guide to London on the phenomenon. “The modern Grill Room we owe, I think, to the Americans. For the travelling American, who has his own very sensible ideas as to what comfort is, does not wish every night of his life to attire himself in a ‘claw-hammer’ evening coat, but he feels that without that garment he would be out of place in the restaurant of any fashionable hotel. The grill-room gives him an excellent dinner, just as long or short as he likes, served quickly, in luxurious surroundings, and he can dress as he likes, to eat it.”
That rather sums up the appeal of this place. And while I have no idea what a ‘claw-hammer’ evening coat might be, it hits just the right note of industrialist fortune chic to make you want to dive, sans cutlery, into a New York Strip Steak or the Porterhouse for two. (Well, they say for two. The other great American culinary import is the doggy bag, after all.)
The cheerful waiting staff, led by Lionel Lavillonniere (excellent names, it seems, are a hiring requirement here), come clad in double-breasted, shawl-lapelled jackets in black and white — a neat contrast to the Gaugin-like verve of the bright new murals about the place. They remind you what an artform their profession is. Everyone here is charming, in fact, with the sort of back-to-school, calm-before-the-storm excitement of any decent soft opening. When covid hit, the management here decided to take 18 months out to refurbish the place, and hone in on what they did best.
They have certainly done that (the rooms upstairs are full of tiny joys and details: fully-stocked bookshelves with eclectic panatlantic titles; marble-edged baths big enough to drown a railroad tycoon.) The break has done them good. The Beaumont is still a unique, esoteric, almost literary gem, amid the enveloping Soho Houseification of the world, and the mindless, airless luxury of its nearby neighbours. This is the finest use imaginable of a beastly 2020 — and a beguiling portal to some richly-remembered 1920, too.
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