In a time of high inflation, the small hotels of London have come into their own. Our newest discovery is a super little gem known simply as 11 Cadogan Gardens. Just off Sloane Square, it's a combination of four wall-to-wall townhouses framed by magnificent gardens. We rate it five stars, or among the best of London's little hotels.
One of Charlie's Angels found solace here. So have diplomats and art dealers, as well as "the more discerning visitors who appreciate our security and high standard of service," the management proudly announces.
If you would believe these same caretakers, 11 Cadogan serves the best breakfast in town. "Piping hot," said the young man who earlier answered our knock. "I never miss it!" He's speaking of a macho English breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, juice, a basket of fruit, toast and croissants. And if hunger persists: coffee, tea and sandwiches are available round-the-clock, 24 hours a day.
But the real pleasure of 11 Cadogan lies in its oak-paneled public lounge and guest quarters. No two rooms are alike. Eleven Cadogan is set in a quiet residential neighborhood only a whisper from Chelsea. Service ranks uppermost with the management. Newspapers are delivered to guests each morning and tea is served in the afternoon.
Upon departure, visitors are presented gift boxes of chocolates along with the bill, which figures out to $57 single and $83 double, including tax and service (not for tight budgets, of course). In addition, 11 Cadogan provides limousine service to Heathrow Airport for $20 or $50 to Gatwick.
Next on our list (and more reasonable) is 16 Sumner Place, another formerly private residence with 20 spick-and-span rooms. Rates for a room with shared bath are $27 single and $42 double. Those with private bath start at $30 single and $46 double.
British hotel and restaurant critic Egon Ronay described 16 Sumner Place as an "unusually luxurious pension that feels like a comfortable townhouse." Fresh flowers are delivered daily and refrigerators are restocked regularly with soft drinks. More than 100 years old, this small establishment is just around the corner from the Victoria and Albert Museum and within walking distance of West End, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and Hyde Park.
The management tells how 16 Sumner Place was "designed for people who are visiting London for more than just a day or two and who prefer not to pay 'grand hotel prices.'"
Operated with similar love and care is the Fielding Hotel at No. 4 Broadcourt -- next door to the Royal Opera House and only a short hop from the British Museum. While lacking perhaps the elegance of 11 Cadogan and 16 Sumner Place, nevertheless it's an excellent buy for under $30 double (about $21 single).
At first glimpse the Fielding may appear a bit grubby -- and it is -- but it grows on you. The mall fronting the hotel existed before Henry VIII, and each evening a lamplighter sets ablaze London's oldest gaslights.
Beech trees lend shade to the mall and during summer window boxes are blood-red with geraniums. And then there is Smokey, the Fielding's mascot -- a parrot who rattles off endless questions: "Ask me if I liked my breakfast," "Ask me if I slept well last night," etc. Occasionally a guest will tire of the chattering and shout back, "Who the hell cares?" Next door to the hotel, Britain's oldest police station, operates around the clock, just as it has since 1657. Indeed, it is the only police station in all of London lacking the traditional blue lights outside its doorsteps. They were replaced by bright, white lights after Queen Victoria complained that the neighborhood seemed too dark for opera-goers.
Besides the opera house, there are, within walking distance of the Fielding, 15 theaters (including Drury Lane), more than 50 pubs and dozens of restaurants, among them a fine Italian trattoria at the end of the mall and Thomas de Quincy's just a block away.
Other London visitors check in at the funky little 17-room Willet Hotel at 32 Sloane Gardens near Chelsea. Operated by Teresa and Angel Nunez, it features what one writer described as "potluck furniture." But never mind. It's quiet and it's cheap, with singles available for under $28 a night and doubles for $37, this plus tax. Included in the arrangement is a full English breakfast.
One could, of course, drop in on Ladey Hartley, the titled proprietress of "London's most elegant bed and breakfast" (No. 10 Doneraile St.), which is a bit out of the mainstream (below East Kensington) but makes up for it by being blissfully peaceful. Lady Hartley's pleasant two-story home dates from the turn of the century. It occupies a position in the former orchard of a former palace.
Lady Hartley provides two rooms ($20 single, $30 double including newspaper and breakfast), but one must love dogs. She has two, Lollipop and Lupin, a couple of pugs. Her rear door opens onto a garden with apple trees, petunias, geraniums and other blooms. The perfect place to regain one's composure after a strenuous day of sightseeing.
Meanwhile, the Portobello Hotel at 22 Stanley Gardens is still doing business just a stroll from the famous antique stalls of Portobello Road. When I looked in six years ago, the proprietress was a sultry Norwegian blonde, Eva Lofstad. Well, she's still blonde and still sultry, but the hotel's rates have risen considerably.
In 1973 a single went for $17.50 a day and a double for $25. Today the cheapest costs $32 and a double is nearly twice the old rate. And should someone desire the Round Room with the round bed (mirrored ceiling) and the antique bath it figures to something like $100 a day.
Still, the Portobello is a favorite of ours, the wedding together of a couple of elegant old townhouses on a quiet street several blocks from Hyde Park. Out back lovely gardens provide a peaceful moment. And if one is in the mood for a nip, the bar is open 24 hours a day, as is the restaurant which is new and in the basement.
Finally there is the Westland Hotel which we still rate as London's friendliest small hotel. Facing Kensington Garden's it is a 30-room gem with a 20-room annex at 154 Bayswater Road (London W2).
I have made the Westland my London home since 1951. It is operated by a couple of transplated Cypriots, Chris and Bertie Isseyegh. And then there is Una Leaney (assistant manager, housekeeper, receptionist, bon vivant), who is described by Chris and Bertie as the hotel's "mother superior."
Rates at Westland begin at $40 single and $46 double, including tax, service and breakfast -- a huge, huge English breakfast. Double-decked buses pass the door regularly and the Underground is a mere two minutes away.
It is a joy to return to this casual, clean and friendly hotel after a long day of tramping about the city. And it is with a touch of melancholy that one bids goodbye to old friends -- receptionist Gillian Dodds, bartender Jason Panos, chef Louis Michel, night porter Ted Lancaster and all the others.