Saturday, March 2, 2024

London's Savoy Hotel

From Delancey Place, March 1:

Today's selection -- from The Secret Life of the Savoy by Olivia Williams. 

In 1889, Victorian impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte opened The Savoy, Britain's first luxury hotel, which allowed the rich to live like royalty when traveling to London:

“D'Oyly catapulted himself to a new level of fame in 1889. Adjoining his Savoy Theatre, he unveiled his Savoy Hotel with great pomp and publicity. Despite having no relevant industry experience — other than as a globetrotting regular guest — he built 'the Hotel de Luxe of the World', as he liked to call it, and installed himself as the chairman and managing director, with his friends as investors and board members. After five years of escalating bills and legal wrangles, he had transformed the wasteland next to the theatre into a marvel: the place that kickstarted the modern luxury hotel scene. By August, the elegant shell was furnished and awaiting le beau monde to glide in through its revolving doors. He had spent five years promising the best hotel in the world to anyone who would listen. Now it was ready to be judged. 

“Since he had started travelling with the Opera Company, D'Oyly had been gathering ideas about how to make London more exciting. Compared to what he saw in America and Continental Europe, he lamented that his hometown was lagging behind in entertainment, restaurants and nightlife. London was a mushrooming metropolis of five and a half million people — far bigger than Paris, New York, Berlin, or any other city, for that matter. It was the hub of an empire that encompassed a quarter of the world. Buildings were going up, slums were being cleared and streets were being built. For all that, it was lacking in style, and suffered a reputation for poor hospitality. As Australian opera singer Nellie Melba, who became a Savoy regular, complained before it opened, in London: 'the cooking was execrable, the carpets were dirty, the menu was medieval, the service an insult'.

“D'Oyly would have agreed. He was disappointed by how uninspiring the places to stay were. His Savoy was so far ahead that, even in 1932, its managing director was able to mock the competition: 'there still lingers in Great Britain the stoic idea that the absence of central heating [...] sparsely furnished bedrooms and primitive bathrooms are in themselves admirable and help us retain those qualities which made the Empire' .

The large restaurant of the Savoy, c. 1900

 “In D'Oyly's day, there were two big, established London hotels, the Langham and the Westminster Palace. They were lacklustre and, of greatest frustration to D'Oyly, did not offer tempting food. In his estimation, the country had two decent restaurants, the Cafe Royal and Kettner's, both in Soho, but he was not bowled over by either. Dissatisfied that there was not one world-class restaurant, he wanted to create one at the Savoy. His inspirations were the best restaurants of the century: the Cafe Anglais in Paris, Delmonico's and the Brunswick in New York, the Belle-Vue in Philadelphia, and Pfordte's in Hamburg....


Related at Delancey Place, January 26, 2024:

Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy