St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London Review

by Continental Club on February 11, 2013

Renaissance St PancrasThere can be few buildings in London that have been written about more in recent years than Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Station. Since 2007, it has been the capital’s rail gateway to Europe; William Barlow’s sky-blue trainshed spanning not only platforms hosting Paris and Brussels-bound Eurostars, but also soaring over the longest champagne bar in Europe and a sculpture of Sir John Betjeman – former Poet Laureate and the man credited with saving St Pancras from the wreckers’ ball in the 1960s.

There are few railway stations in the world that have not only been so warmly taken into the hearts of their users, but that have actually become destinations in their own right. Grand Central Terminal in New York stands out. Chhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria) Terminus in the former Bombay. And now St Pancras seems to have taken a place that hardly any who knew it would have expected it to, just a couple of decades ago.

And yet, for more than three years after the first Eurostars arrived, the station still remained an unfinished symphony. Sir George’s former Midland Grand Hotel, its spires striking skyward from the station’s Euston Road frontage, remained the preserve of builders and craftsmen charged with returning the moth-balled shell to something at least approaching its former glory.

© Renaissance Hotels

 

When the wraps came off, just less than 138 years after the hotel’s original debut, the tide of compliments surged in again – the now St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened its doors to the awe of trainspotters and trendsetters alike.

In its opening months, Continental Club enjoyed lunch twice in The Booking Office and could barely reconcile the frankly awesome surroundings with the vaulted-ceilinged space’s former incarnation – as a Seventies Formicafest of uniquely British Rail proportions. Memories of standing, queuing, ticketless and cold, now banished amid deeply-buttoned banquettes and a gleaming bar.

It’s taken more than a year for the opportunity to stay at the hotel to present itself, so when it did, it seemed only right that a room in the original part of the building be booked for this much-anticipated experience. There’s also a highly-specified new-build wing running along side the trainshed. It was a working trip however, with dinner already pre-arranged, so Marcus Wareing’s Gilbert Scott restaurant remained untasted. There was chance only for a swift tour of the subterranean spa, and the soothing steaminess of the place thwarted all attempts at photography.

Not for a moment did we fell like we were missing out during our short stay though. We’d arrived (by train, of course) early, and dropped our bags for safe-keeping at reception. When we returned 7 hours later, we were remembered by name, issued with our key card and offered accompaniment to the room.

We declined, instead preferring to explore our own way, and the lift doors opening on the guest floors was effectively the curtain rising on pure hotel theatre.

The corridors run parallel to Euston Road, crossing bridges between parts of the building separated by the soaring Gothic arches which afforded original access from the street to the platforms and trains within.

Looking down from one flyover, to the North, is the former cab rank – now the Hansom Lounge and also home to the hotel’s reception.

To the South, the hotel’s sweeping forecourt with its new sign illuminated by a single, oversized, lantern of welcome.

The corridor continues East, past original doors adorned with new brass and restored to remove all traces of abandonment, neglect and the effects of utilitarian use as railway offices between the original hotel’s first closure and subsequent mothballing.

At the next archway, it’s the Eurostar platforms and that Barlow trainshed that take centre stage, perfectly framed by the russet brickwork and sandy stone of one of the former main access-ways to the station.

The room itself, a Chambers Club Room, was more than spacious and uncommonly quiet, although the sheer height of the ceilings tended to constantly lead the eyes upward rather than outward, especially with the towering curtains (which could easily have billowed from the masts of the Cutty Sark, such was their scale) drawn.

How to incorporate a bathroom without it taking up inordinate floor space, whilst avoiding creating a room with the proportions of a carton of orange juice, was always going to be something of a challenge. The solution, which also leaves the cornicing untouched and still affords a sense of the original proportions in which the room sits overall, has been to build a ‘cabin’ housing the ablution facilities and the air conditioning unit.

It’s probably no surprise that this compromise is not quite as successful as the rest of the room design when viewed from the outside; from the inside, however, it’s a very well-appointed haven of bathing comfort. It just lacks the OTT impression that everything it sits within can’t help but project.

There’s an abundance of lotions and potions to rejuvenate the tired traveller though, and even a St Panquacks duck to while away a soak with.

 

 

 

 

 

Bathroom aside, the attention to detail goes well beyond the physical features inherited from the great Victorian railway builders. Complimentary bottled water is presented in reusable flasks etched with the hotel’s diamond logo.

Even the notepad rests in a leather stand whose shape reflects the diamond and stylistic nuances of the hotel’s font style.

There’s a welcome note and a few very moreish treats, alongside a weighty tome describing the hotel’s history.

Both the chocolates and the book are ideal to settle down with, while enjoying a coffee from the in-room Nespresso machine.

Come the morning, it’s worth double-checking that the belt on your bathrobe is firmly tied before drawing aside those clipper sail curtains – lest an unsuspecting passenger inbound from Paris be treated to a little more than they may have stomach for at such an early hour.

That leather chair is a wonderful eerie from which to observe the station coming to life, nursing another Nespresso and preparing to explore as yet unseen corners of the building.

Back along the corridor towards the Western end of the building, fantastic features abound – like this radiator resembling a stack of ten feet long communion wafer kebabs.

One of the most famous fixtures of the hotel is the original grand staircase. Photographs can barely do justice to its spiralling sinuousness, its incredible solidity yet detailed intricacy and its combinations of shafting light and shadow. Despite its hyper-concentrated Gothicness, I defy any fully-grown adult not to want to run up and down it, round and round it and all without an ear-to-ear grin on their face. This isn’t a staircase for Krystle Carrington or Sue Ellen Ewing. It’s for Jane and Michael Banks – possibly with Mary Poppins sliding up the bannister.

When the fun is done, however, it’s off for a pre-checkout breakfast in the Chambers Club, the exclusive lounge reserved only for guests in Chambers Club guestrooms. Indeed, there’s another sweeping staircase – one that itself would garner admiration were it anywhere else but along the hall from its nutty neighbour – leading directly from the Chambers Club guestroom floors.

There’s also discreet access from The Booking Office, through a door so unadorned that it’s almost as easy to miss as the entrance to Platform 9 3/4 at next door King’s Cross.

The Chambers Club is open from 6.30am to 11:45pm each day, and occupies what was the main public entrance to the hotel. Breakfast is served to its guests until 10:30am during the week and on Saturdays, with an extra half hour’s grace on Sundays. There’s a good selection of breads and patisserie, fruit and yoghurts, cheeses and cold cuts, hot items including sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs – the hot selection being refreshed particularly regularly while we grazed.

There’s a light afternoon tea on offer from 3.00pm until 5.30pm, and from 5.30pm to 7.30pm pre-dinner canapes are served.

© Renaissance Hotels

 

Apart from the morning, afternoon and evening food presentations, a selection of complimentary drinks including house wines are available throughout the day, and a full a la carte menu provides the option to take lunch or dinner in the lounge between 11:ooam and 10:00pm.

© Renaissance Hotels

 

It’s not often that a hotel stay, especially a short one, raises a smile days, weeks and months later. Perhaps the last time it happened was when we visited another railway hotel – the Banff Springs Hotel in Canada. The St Pancras Hotel managed to do it though – a quite incredible restoration of a building that might have been demolished on more than one occasion; a Victorian Gothic overload whose level of detail and intricacy completely balances what could otherwise be intimidating in its sheer scale; a hotel whose care and attention matches and further polishes the unique style of its bequest and a staff who, without exception, seemed to be as proud as punch to work there.

Continental Club paid £340 including VAT for a one night stay in a Chambers Club Room. For more information, rates and availability, visit the hotel’s website.

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