Best bar none

I love smart London hotels. I love the unadulterated excess of them. I love the gloss and the polish and the amplified urbanity. The excess of staff. I love the lifts and the lobbies, the spinny doors and the bars. The grotesque overblown design and the giddy, fizzy sense of occasion. The obscure amuse-bouches that arrive in complicated multi-tiered silver contraptions, and are offered to anyone who manages to loiter for long enough in the right area. The hushed corridors. The courtyards and the tearooms. The secluded fumoirs and hidden cocktail lounges. The loos.

It hasn’t always been like this for me. My early encounters with SLHs left me bewildered, intimidated, convinced I was permanently on the verge of doing something a bit humiliating. Which often, I was. The first time I spent an evening in the bar at Claridge’s, I broke two separate champagne flutes – one slipped from my sweaty grasp and crashed loudly to the floor; the second I managed to flick off the bar with my hair. At the Covent Garden Hotel, I got drunk on the house martinis and attempted to harangue cast members of Jerry Springer the Opera into singing with me. In the Long Bar of the Sanderson, I dropped a canape on the foot of Hear’Say’s Mylene Klass.

But I persisted, because SLHs were fashionable, and through a painful process of trial and error and making dreadful mistakes, I learnt some stuff about the scene which I am now prepared to share. For example:

· A person does not just ‘turn up’ at an SLH, a person arrives .

· A person does not stumble out of a cab, trailing bad luggage and crumpled coat tails, and gibber at the doorman, while getting embarrassed about who to tip, and how much. A person strides through the door, smiling warmly (if rather grandly) at the staff, as though accompanied by a spiritual fanfare.

· On entering an SLH, a person should own the entire space – from the front desk, to the lobby, to the tearoom, to the bar – and negotiate it with a certain swishiness, never faltering, never walking into a full-length mirror which they’d mistaken for another grand corridor, always wearing the right clothes, perpetually exhibiting the right sense of entitlement.

Smart London hotels are mini-fashionable societies in their own right. They have celebrity followings. Their own private etiquette. Their own fashion requirements. Their own sense of chic. Accordingly, all prospective guests should take whatever measures are necessary to ensure they don’t mess with the ambience. I know I do.

CLARIDGE’S

The marble-clad, chandelier- strewn grande dame of hotel scenes, Claridge’s has existed in one form or another since 1812, when international aristocracy took to it instantly and passionately. Their descendants, the Eurotrash, have been beating a path up Brook Street in their handmade Church’s ever since.

Significantly, in 1999, Claridge’s got thoroughly contemporary. David Collins created a leather-lined delight of a destination cocktail bar; New York designer Thierry Despont did over the foyer in Art Deco style; Gordon Ramsay opened his restaurant in 2003. But, most momentously, earlier this year, Kate Moss threw her 30th here, and all manner of debauchery was rumoured to have ensued. Claridge’s austere and grand reputation acquired a most impressive decadent edge. Hoorah for all that.

Wear Formal/glamour. Claridge’s does not appreciate neo-grunge. You won’t even get into the tea-room in the foyer in jeans. Think showy jewels, sleek tuxedos, vertiginous heels, monochrome cocktail dresses. Old school labels: Dior, Chanel, YSL.

Carry Louis Vuitton and a very small dog.

Drink Courvoisier in the deliciously decadent fumoir.

You may bump into Sophie Dahl, Mick Jagger, Sex and the City types, Kate Moss, supermodel Erin O’Connor, Alexander McQueen.

The deal Claridge’s (020 7629 8860; www.the-savoy-group.com/claridges),54-55 Brook Street, W1.

Doubles range from £257-£351 per night, excluding a discretionary 5 per cent service charge and breakfast.

THE SANDERSON

By throwing up a series of achingly hip hotels in assorted locations around the world, Ian ‘Studio 54’ Schrager has created a jet set circuit of his own. The international design- and fashion-literate set flit from the Delano in Miami to the Mondrian in Los Angeles, from Morgan’s in New York to the Clift in San Francisco, secure in the knowledge that they’ll never be exposed to a bad bathroom scheme, or a tasteless duvet cover. Since its opening in 1999, the Sanderson has settled beautifully into the whole scene. Originally a classic bit of Fifties office architecture – stark, linear, austere – Philippe Starck draped it in floatiness, knocked up a very satisfying internal courtyard, and whacked a lip-shaped sofa in the lobby for added Cocteau-esque whimsy. The aesthetes applauded. The courtyard promptly became a location for glam society/charity events, buzzy, beautiful young things gravitated towards the Light Bar, where they encountered a heady mix of hip-hop’s most affluent elements, and the last of the extravagant city boys. Media powers hosted dinners for their fave designers in Alain Ducasse’s Spoon+. Vogue and Penthouse shot in the suites.

Wear A witty, hip combination of upscale denim and spangly Topshop tops, handmade suits dressed down with John Smedley v-necks and some visually challenging trainers.

Carry Anya Hindmarch cases with kitsch images on the sides.

Drink Champagne. As tasteful and minimal as it is, the Sanderson also has an edge of pure bling.

You may bump into Jade Jagger, Matthew Williamson, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Usher.

The deal The Sanderson (020 7300 1400, reservations 020 7300 5555; www.morganshotelgroup.com), 50 Berners Street, W1.

Doubles range from £294 to £781 per night. Prices exclude breakfast.

THE METROPOLITAN

When the Metropolitan – London’s first card-carrying style hotel – was launched in 1997, it set the upper echelons of the capital’s social scene on fire. Armani designed the staff uniforms, the in-house sushi restaurant Nobu won Michelin stars, critical plaudits and the slavish devotion of the celebrity crowd; the impossibly cool Met Bar played host to all manner of A-list naughtiness, and single-handedly sparked the rebirth of the cocktail scene.

Clearly, anything that hot would suffer a popularity backlash sooner or later. By 1999, the Met Bar’s moment had passed, and the It crowd moved on. Nonetheless, thrilling rumours of celeb excess reach us from the Met Bar again. People are sighing over Nobu’s signature black cod once more. Even Boris Becker, who famously impregnated Angela Ermakowa in a Metropolitan Hotel broom cupboard in July 1999, has overcome his demons and ventured back there recently.

Wear Unapologetic, lurid sexiness. Think upmarket footballer’s wife for the ladies: fur-trimmed Mukluk boots with denim minis and the like. For the boys, um, upmarket footballer: flamboyant Roberto Cavalli shirts, unbuttoned to the chest, teamed with a crucifix and very tight jeans.

Carry Ironic Gucci. The Metropolitan rode the vanguard of the Nineties conspicuous consumption movement. Your suitcases should be a knowing homage to all that.

Drink Cosmopolitans – the Met Bar introduced the cocktail to the UK market back, even, before Sex and the City did…

You may bump into Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Blink 182, Muse, Jil Sander, Stella McCartney, Dolce and/or Gabbana.

The deal The Metropolitan (020 7447 1000; www.metropolitan.co.uk), 19 Old Park Lane, W1.

Doubles from £352 per night for a queen city room to £441 per night for a king park. A two-bedroom penthouse suite costs from £3,290 per night.

THE PORTOBELLO HOTEL

It’s an odd proposition really, is the Portobello. It looks like a chintzy, whimsical, princessy little affair – all circular satin-draped beds and comfy carpeting – but it’s got a well-deserved reputation as the city’s only rock ‘n’ roll hotel. For 35 years it’s been servicing all manner of properly wild celebrities.

A persistent rumour that the A list’s most beautiful model and her equally beautiful and famous actor boyfriend once filled a bath with champagne, only to have a maid inadvertently drain it, is just one of the stories feeding the Portobello’s glamour myth. It’s distilled essence of Notting Hill: eccentric, bohemian, pretty but inherently sexy, insouciantly well styled, with a hard, Heidi Klein-living hellcat streak.

Wear Paul Smith (his flagship stores are just around the corner), battered cowboy boots with flowing gypsy skirts, Jade Jagger jewellery, Heidi Klein hippie deluxe wear.

Carry Antique battered leather Gladstone bags, thrifted from Portobello market.

Drink Camomile tea or super premium Belvedere vodka. The Portobello Hotel is all about extremes.

You may bump into Colin Farrell, the boys from Blue, Bono. Robbie Williams has been spotted roaming the corridors in search of a club sandwich, in slippers and a bathrobe, on more than one occasion.

The deal The Portobello Hotel (020 7727 2777; www.portobello-hotel.co.uk),22 Stanley Gardens, W11.

Double room from £160 per night, twin room from £180 per night.

THE SOHO HOTEL

The very newest of London’s smart hotels, The Soho opened last September, a sister to those archetypes of boutique chic, the Covent Garden and the Charlotte Street hotels. Early rumours suggest that – shocked intake of breath – the 85- room hotel might even outclass those magnificent examples of boutiquery. Having thoroughly exorcised the ghost of the site’s former life as a car park – thanks largely to the flawless interior design ethic of co-owner Kit Kemp – the Soho is the epitome of chic. Predictably, it’s already been embraced by its target demographic, Soho’s film industry crowd and visiting Hollywood types, who monopolise the six one- and two-bedroom apartments during extended shooting stays in the capital.

Wear Stealth wealth. Seven shades of laid-back, ludicrously expensive, casual wear, with preppy undertones. Maharishi, Juicy Couture, cashmere lounging wear, C & C California T-shirts, For All Mankind denim.

Carry Unselfconscious but ultimately desirable Mulberry.

Drink A Soho Passion: Grey Goose Orange vodka, passionfruit puree, and champagne.

You may bump into Neve Campbell, Naomi Campbell, Liam Gallagher and his Appleton, J-Lo, Dennis Hopper, Charlize Theron, Matthew Vaughan.

The deal The Soho Hotel (020 7559 3000; www.sohohotel.com) Richmond Mews, W1.

Doubles from £276 to £347. Suites from £464 to £2,937.

THE ZETTER RESTAURANT AND ROOMS

Last spring, Clerkenwell’s most urban and gritty Victorian warehouse was transformed into a 59- room hotel of considerable stylishness, and the grungily cool inhabitants of surrounding boroughs – a terminally fashionable collection of Brit artists, photographers, style mag hacks and St Martin’s art students – grudgingly conceded that there was a place for such luxury and upmarket fun, even in EC1. (The minimalist contemporary-meets-Seventies kitsch suburban aesthetic probably helped reassure local trendies that they weren’t compromising themselves too violently.) Sweeping floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows cover three of the four walls in the ground floor bar and restaurant, looking onto what passes for a pretty view in these parts – cobbledy St John’s Square – and allowing passers-by a good gape at the fantastically trendy clientele.

Wear Glamour meets grunge. Low slung battered Levi’s, carefully considered and very expensive vintage rock T-shirts, teamed with long, theatrical Balenciaga/Roland Mouret coats in black, and occasional touches of Marni.

Carry Tracey Emin’s limited-edition suitcase by Longchamp. Is it luggage or is it art, people?

Drink House wine. Anything else would be a betrayal of cool arty roots.

You may bump into Renée Zellwegger, Naomi Cleaver, members of Franz Ferdinand, Jamie Oliver.

The deal The Zetter (020 7324 4444; www.thezetter.com) 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1.

Doubles start from £153 and go up to £305.

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