Travel Dispatch: You Don’t Know the Athenaeum Hotel?

Just when I think I know everything there is to know about London, the city proves me wrong. I learn something new with each visit (knocking back fewer pints also helps). Like, there’s an actual hill in celebrity-laden Primrose Hill that offers panoramic views of London. My most recent visit had me traipsing all over the city discovering first-hand the kinds of gems that are likely to register on a global scale any day now. For instance, The Critic’s Circle Award-winning play War Horse will be the next Steven Spielberg blockbuster. Kate Moss is making cameos at a new bar in Hoxton, East Bloc. And who knew one of my favorite airlines, Air New Zealand, flies direct to London from Los Angeles? But the best-kept secret in Foggy Olde is the medium-new, comfortably chic Athenaeum Hotel.

The family-run hotel is almost hidden, sandwiched between major-leaguers like Intercontinental and Sheraton on Park Lane (also, who knew Park Lane had non-corporate hotels?), just off Trafalgar Square. There are only 111 guestrooms – recently enhanced – and 12 suites, so it’s pretty intimate and cozy. There’s an amazing “family” theme here, and I don’t mean that in a creepy Disney sort of way. The owners want to make sure you’re taken care of. Hence, the free mini-bars. The staff really grows on you, like a distant cousin you haven’t seen in a while. No lie. I’d love to see the staff training manual. For those who want to feel really at home, take residence in one of Athenaeum’s 35 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the same block. Guests receive all the amenities the hotel offers (room service, cleaning service, etc) with the added bonus of being able to say you actually lived in London.

Athenaeum is one of those hotels where everything is absurdly easy. You walk into your room and the lights turn on by motion sensor. The bathroom has a fogless mirror and a heated towel rack (one that actually works!). A bedside control pad manages the temperature and lights with one button. FREE internet. Blessedly, the windows open in case you’re not into that whole recycled air thing. To boot, there’s a gorgeous “living wall” on one side of the building to gawk at, also for free.

Another big secret that’s no longer a secret? The lounge downstairs is home to the largest whiskey bar outside of Scotland (280 whiskeys), with only one of two whiskey someliers in London on staff.

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