American Invasion: Thompson Hotels Open The Belgraves in London

It doesn’t get much more British than Belgravia, the posher-than-posh London neighborhood where row upon row of cream-colored Georgian townhouses surround lovely green parks locked to anyone not landed-gentry enough to have a key and a double-barreled surname. Everyone seems like they should be called Gemma or Jemima or Jeeves, and they all look like they emerged from the womb in a Burberry trench, clutching a long black brolly instead of a rattle. None of them even has bad teeth.

Within the district, Montcomb Street, a particularly delicious crumpet on the tea trolley of delights that is Belgravia, is the kind of place that makes you (or at least me) wish to be British, achingly so. This petite row of winsome shops and eateries—Rococo Chocolates, nouveau gastropub The Pantechnicon, fashion designer Stewart Parvin (who holds a Royal Warrant from The Queen, herself) and a branch of the food-porn-y veggie-centric cafes from hot-shot chef Yotan Ottolenghi—fills daily with dapper gents in perfectly tailored suits speaking with clipped consonents into ever-present Blackberrys and women dressed so conservatively, they all look primed for their first day of work at Sotheby’s. (And I wonder: Are Londoners more attractive than New Yorkers, or am I just a hopeless Anglophile? Or is it just that the rich are always prettier, and in London, I somehow manage to only ever see the rich?)

Into all this comes The Belgraves, a months-old property from the American hotelier Thompson—you know it for L.A.’s Hollywood Roosevelt and New York’s 60 Thompson, among others—which renovated and moved into a mid-20th-century structure formerly known as Belgravia’s ugliest building. So what’s an American interloper doing in a place like this? Quite nicely, it turns out, quite nicely, indeed.

In large measure, this is due to the slightly irreverent work of bad-girl British decorator Tara Bernerd, a socialite turned designer who streaks her hair pink and here has created a blend of high and low English and American style, mixing uptown with down, punk panache with Savile Row swagger, Soho-style sandblasted brick with Scandinavian antiques and cushy chairs from designer David Linley—who also just happens to be The Queen’s nephew. Bernerd herself calls the look “rough luxury,” which sounds like an entirely paradoxical, and therefore perhaps rather American concept, while Thompson co-founder Jason Pomeranc points out that “our first hotel, 60 Thompson, was always ideologically based on the intimacy of British hotels. That’s something that’s always been an inspiration to our brand.  We wanted an Anglo-American fusion in terms of design, service and atmosphere.” 

For the Anglo element, Pomeranc turned to Bernerd, of course, but also to local starchef Mark Hix, who loaned not only his name and his skills to the hotel’s modern British lobbyside restaurant, but also his collection of canvases by YBAs (that’s Young British Artists) to the hotel’s walls. On the American end of things, there’s the stylized but still in-your-face American flag behind the check-in desk, as well as more subtle and comforting notes, like the bellmen in Levis, plaid shirts and Chelsea boots “rather than the typical top hat and tails you’d normally find in Belgravia,” notes the hotel’s American-born general manager Joseph Kirtley, who spent more than a decade with Morgans hotels in New York, Los Angeles and London before Thompson wooed him away to The Belgraves. “As an American brand, we were able to have a little bit of fun with it all.”

Upstairs, the fun continues, in the hotel’s 85 rooms and suites, all done in shades of platinum and grey, with rich (you might even say royal) aubergine and Bordeaux-colored velvet accents. It’s the ones on the park side of the building, and sitting on the hotel’s upper floors, that you’ll want to book, what with the tufted-velvet banquette alcoves built into their bay windows and the views up and over Belgravia’s mansard roofs. These extend out towards Buckingham Palace, Victoria, Green Park and Picadilly beyond, all of which are lovely places to visit, though you well may find yourself jonesing for the charms of Belgravia when you do. But don’t worry, Gemma and Jeeves will be waiting.

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