A Bloombury Bolt Hole
Newly renovated and re-opened at the end of 2018, The Academy Hotel is an intimate and luxurious establishment and its Alchemy Bar is a hidden gem
Review by Rupert Watkins
With its Bohemian and literary history, Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia does seem to lack the hidden and elegant bars you think it should have. As you move east, you are also moving into University College London, SOAS and Great Ormond Street Hospital territory with their student populations. This is a shame as the area retains much of its Georgian refinement and spaciousness. Into this area, The Academy Hotel re-opened on Gower Street in late 2018 following extensive renovation. The hotel has also opened its Alchemy Bar.
Nestling in an elegant townhouse, the Alchemy Bar is small, atmospheric and intimate. Taking inspiration from the 18th century building, the bar is decorated in a sleek modern take on Georgian Chinoiserie, Regency – esque campaign stripe tenting decorates the ceiling of the bar and dark green banquettes and marble topped tables add to the luxurious snug like feel. During the summer, the courtyard is also in use allowing you to enjoy one of the house martini’s or indulge in an afternoon tea in secluded privacy.
Though the bar itself is small, seating – at a squeeze – five, there is a wide selection of gins, vodkas and whiskies available. The actual drinks menu is not prodigious as the magic of the Alchemy bar lies in its enthusiastic and inventive mixologist Ilias who will create your own drink, simply tell him your spirit of choice at leave the rest to him as he produces a twist on old and new classics using his own mixed tinctures and bitters.
With my guest and I being gin enthusiasts, we both opted for gin – based first cocktails. Ilias created a gin and prosecco-based drink for my guest, the over whelming sweetness you sometimes find in these drinks being well-balanced out with basil. My own drink was a refreshing take on the gin martini using Hendricks and cucumber alongside a dash of lemon to create a light and sharp drink. Sticking with gin, my guest’s second drink was Ilias’ riff on the negroni. Using a home infused vermouth enlivened with a touch more star anise, this was the drink of the evening, beautifully drinkable and much enjoyed. As an Old Fashioned lover, I asked our barman to present his take on this classic drink. Using Japanese Nikka whiskey and a personally made bitter to impart a hint of smokiness, the resulting cocktail was subtle, elegant and a drink to savour at the end of an evening.
For those after wine, there is a carefully selected choice of wine, or you can opt for a glass or two of the house Billecart – Salmon champagne. I do recommend though the discerning and curious drinker places himself fully in the hands of Ilias.
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Away from the bar, much thought has gone into the renovation of the hotel. Procured by the YTL Hotel group, the interiors were completely re-done by New York-based Champalimaud Design. Modern, muted tones are in evidence throughout. The Academy is actually no less than five former townhouses knocked together. Character is retained; being shown round by the urbane general manager Ralf Gresch, he explains the layout and architecture precluded large scale architectural re-design. The slightly undulating corridors and small winding staircases have great charm; there are only 50 rooms giving the entire hotel an intimate air. In the rooms, original features such as fireplaces, skirting boards and cornicing have been retained and given the building’s Georgian roots, the height of the ceilings gives even the small single rooms a feeling of space. The Bloomsbury suite I stayed in was large – it is often used by guests as a family room with an extra bed – with minimalist leather chairs and a large very comfortable sofa to relax on. We were at the front of the hotel and Gower Street is a busy thoroughfare for traffic; however, the soundproofing installed during the renovations was excellent and the room was quiet.
A lot of time has gone into the marble en suite bathrooms. Very luxurious, the walk-in showers are huge and the forest shower heads powerful and invigorating. Toiletries are provided by British spa brand Aromatherapy Associates. Other quirky details include chocolate crayons by innovative Singapore based chocolatier Janice Wong.
Due to its smaller size and interior layout, The Academy does not have a restaurant; full room service is provided and a comprehensive and delicious Continental breakfast with cold meats, cheeses, fruit and pastries is served each day in the Refectory. The coffee, too often a bugbear at hotels, was excellent.
Though only having been open for six months, The Academy is already a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. For a tucked away drinking gem and a warm welcome one can see why; this is an excellent and comfortable base to enjoy either the charms of West London or sufficiently away from the City for business travellers to allow a break from the office and glass towers.
Enquiries: The Alchemy Bar at The Academy Hotel www.theacademyhotel.co.uk/pages/dining.html
The Academy Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloombury, London WC1E 6HG / 0207 6314115 / www.theacademyhotel.co.uk/index.html