The Renaissance of a Rock Hotel – The Columbia.
Walking from Lancaster Gate to the Columbia Hotel, you might wonder, like me, why you’ve heard of it but never been there. The five townhouses that make up the hotel were built between 1856 and 1857 in the French Rennaissance style. Grade II listed, the hotel is imposing and elegant on the outside. Walk in and right now everything is set up to accommodate COVID restrictions, nevertheless with a sense of elegance from a time gone by.
In the First World War, two of the buildings became the American women’s hospital for officers. It all sounds rather charming, with 42 beds for young officers and an operating theatre. The largest ward had twelve beds and a balcony looking out over Hyde Park. White painted furniture, soft grey walls with white panels, blue silk eiderdowns and matching curtains and cushions, it must have provided a welcome respite.
After the war the five houses became The Palace Hotel, then between 1956 and 1975, The Columbia Club – the United States Air Force London Officer’s Club.
Renamed The Columbia Hotel in 1975, it’s still a privately owned, now fourth generation hotel that has seen a continuous programme of renovation. If like me, you think you’ve heard of it, that may well date back to when the hotel was one of the most popular London hangouts for bands and musicians. in the 1980s it was popular with bands like The Teardrop Explodes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics and more. Noel Gallagher’s first track written for Oasis was named Columbia, after the good times he remembered there – although Oasis was ultimately banned, apparently for throwing furniture from the bar and trashing a Mercedes parked in the hotel’s car park.
That popularity of The Columbia as a touring band hotel seemed to have slipped away a little in recent years, but lockdown has given the hotel a chance to refocus on how it can best fit into the community. Josh Fresco, Director of the hotel told us of some of the changes they’ve been making, all with the aim of creating a cultural home for artists and creative thinkers in the heart of West London. We toured the basement rooms, where he’s set up artist in residence studios and when we visited was in the middle of building a recording studio. And, the stunning ground floor bars where you can sip on cocktails and enjoy some delicious food.
We actually took our food upstairs partly to experience the luxury of the private rooms, which can be booked for events from birthday parties to business meetings and partly so that we had a little more light to take a few pictures of our own.
The largest of the rooms, 116, can seat 10 at the dining table or 20 for a more casual meeting – and has that stunning balcony looking out over Hyde Park. There’s no booking fee, just what the hotel describes as a ‘reasonable minimum spend’ and I’ve earmarked it for my own birthday next year!
This isn’t somewhere where the drinks and food will leave you with a hole in your pocket – teas and coffees are under £3 and the cheapest wine on the list is a snip at £24.
Cocktails (highly recommended) are £9. The smallest room (101) has space for just 6 seated or 10 standing – perfect for a group of friends who just want a bit of privacy. Each room has its own ensuite bathroom and each is furnished with comfy sofas and art from the Hotel’s artist in residence.
Besides the private rooms, the Hotel has also created a suite of offices to hire, by the day or for short term contracts. So, those businesses thinking of continuing with the ‘Work from Home’ system that’s become so popular, can hire a space that’s perfect for a team meeting, brainstorming or short term project. The rooms have the advantage of full catering on offer from the bar and lounge downstairs.
And there are banqueting rooms downstairs for larger groups
I got the impression from Josh Fresco that this was very much an evolution and work in progress. What comes next will depend on how the community receives the new developments. I, for one, loved what I saw, a hotel going beyond the remit of a good bar and lounge to provide facilities that would serve not only residents but the local London community.
95-99 Lancaster Gate
Daylight photos courtesy of The Columbia Hotel
Looking for something different? For contemporary style and charm we love the Sunborn Hotel in Docklands, East London