It's about seven in the evening, and the high-ceilinged lobby bar at One Aldwych, a boutique hotel in Covent Garden is buzzing. Every seat is taken with smartly dressed Londoners sipping martinis and tumblers of scotch on elegant couches and club chairs arranged in little clusters amid contemporary sculptures and fragrant floral arrangements. My English friend points to a well-polished woman with a blonde bob -- the Diane Sawyer of London, I'm told. Actors and producers from surrounding West End theaters are also known to imbibe post-curtain here along with business people and fashion execs.
The 105-room contemporary hotel sits on the intersection of Wellington Street and The Aldwych in a grand 1907 Edwardian building complete with a copper cupola dome that once housed a newspaper office and a bank. While it sits in the one of the city's most tourist-trafficked areas, pulsing with theaters, shops, historic pubs, restaurants and nightlife, the hotel manages to be a tranquil oasis where locals feel comfortable.
Covent Garden, particularly around the piazza, was the old fruit and vegetable market dating from 1649 and is one of the city's oldest areas (there were also theaters along Drury Lane and bustling public houses in the area at the time). Today, it's still a center of entertainment with fashionable eateries for those in the know.
The recently opened Opera Tavern, just steps from the Royal Opera House, with exposed brick and glass chandeliers is popular for Italian and Spanish tapas. There's also Mishkin's, a Jewish-style deli (reuben on rye, chicken knish) with a retro-cool decor. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the team behind the Wolseley and other hotspots has just opened the Delaunay, with a similar all-day-dining concept in a handsome, wood-paneled dining room. This fall, look for a branch of New York's Balthazar in a highly-anticipated collaboration between Keith McNally and Richard Caring (Soho House, the Ivy, Le Caprice).
One of the area's top tables is One Aldwych's Axis, a sleek space with purple leather chairs and contemporary artwork on the walls. Diners can expect modern British cuisine (seared scallops with braised pork belly, butter poached loin of hare) incorporating local products from surrounding farms. For theater-goers, there's a three-course prix fixe menu. Additionally, there's the more casual Indigo, overlooking the lobby, where I dined on a goat cheese-and-beet salad and breast of Cumbrian chicken with polenta.
The hotel has many spaces that can be used for private dining -- many such requests are expected during the upcoming Olympics, as well as events in the lower-level 30-seat Screening Room. The Old Vic Theatre and Sky Films have held screenings here. If you're in town during one of the Martini Movie nights be sure to book a place -- you receive a glass of Grey Goose vodka martini and popcorn during the movie followed by dinner (upcoming selections include "The Artist" and "Midnight in Paris"; movies take place most Friday and Saturday evenings; check website for full schedule). And set to open in mid-June is a new guest-only lounge in a street-facing space off the main lobby.
The 105 rooms are all individually designed (mine faced the historic Lyceum Theatre) and come with original artwork and king-sized beds topped with Frette linens. Guests will certainly appreciate the free Wi-Fi, iPod docking stations and TV in the bathroom -- not to mention the mini macaroons at turn-down. One of the top rooms is the Dome Suite, complete with an eight-person dining room and views of Waterloo Bridge and in the distance, the new Shard skyscraper, which, when completed this month, will be Europe's tallest building. Fitness buffs will appreciate the state-of-the-art health club with personal trainers, a chlorine-free pool (with underwater music piped in) for early morning laps and spa treatments using the all-natural Natura Bisse line.
On my last night in London, my friend and I ended up at the Delaunay for an after-dinner drink. It wasn't particularly crowded, especially the bar area so we were surprised at the frosty reception from the hostess, so we hightailed it out of there and headed back to One Aldwych. Though the staff didn't know I was staying there, we were immediately made to feel welcome, and as we sunk into the couch, sipping our nightcap, we felt very much at home.
One Aldwych rates start at $367.