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Eye Spy the Luxurious St. Ermin’s Hotel

If you’ve ever imagined yourself as an international spy,

you owe it to yourself to spend a night or three at St. Ermin’s Hotel in London’s Westminster district.


While Central London is brimming with opulent hotels in storied enclaves such as Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park, none can tell the stories of St. Ermin’s, a Victorian-era grand dame beautifully renovated in Queen Anne style. Now a part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the four-star, red-brick property has an ideal location, just around the corner from the St. James Place underground station. 


Covert Past

Designed as a luxury apartment building in 1892 by J.P. Briggs, famed as the architect of the Savoy Theater, was converted in 1900 into a hotel that assumed historical significance during World War II and the Cold War. Indeed, it remains the only public establishment in London closely associated with the history of espionage.


It was used as a spy headquarters during World War II. In 1940, prime minister Winston Churchill formed his Special Operations Executive (SIS) and MI6 forces at the fabled dwelling. A secret tunnel allegedly connects the ground-floor lobby to Westminster Palace and the adjacent tube station. 


If this all sounds very James Bond to you, consider that Bond’s creator, author Ivan Fleming, once strode these hallways in his previous career as a British intelligence agent.


All the World’s a Stage

As you enter the hotel grounds through a lofty wrought-iron gate, you find yourself in an enchanting courtyard flanked by a colorful garden. The sweeping lobby mimics Briggs’ theatrical balconies and whimsical staircases; it even echoes like a theater. A diverse combination of evocative Art Nouveau styling, Rococo plaster work, sparkling chandeliers, Oriental cushions and prints grace the storied residence. In keeping with its spy theme, antique décor includes various keepsakes, collectibles, codes, surveillance devices and Cold War-era relics. 


A £30 million renovation, spearheaded by Los Angeles-based designer Dayna Lee’s Powerstrip Studio, restored hallways and interiors. Lee took inspiration from 19th-century botanist Christopher Dresser. Ubiquitous plant, flower and leaf motifs now grace the green building. 


Living Quarters

The homey hotel boasts 331 sophisticated rooms along with 41 suites and family suites. Each is different in design, shape and size, but all draw upon worldwide textural influences to convey a calming effect. Two-poster beds, crisp bed linens, sumptuous soft furnishings, vibrant colors, White Company toiletries, oversized windows, flat-screen TVs, iPod docs, and built-in international sockets all add to the sense of being in your own home. Junior Suites combine the latest in technology with fabulously innovative pieces — Louis Vuitton-style furniture, leather-wrapped wardrobes, mother-of-pearl inlays, chocolate marble, large walk-in showers and inviting claw-foot baths. 


The hotel has created 27 family rooms, each with a pair of queen–sized beds, two bathrooms, and an additional sofa bed to ensure maximum flexibility for all. Upon chicking in, children receive an intriguing St. Ermin’s Secret Agent Package with a top-secret briefing to test their observational and sleuthing skills around the hotel. 


Casual Fine Dining

St. Ermin’s on-site restaurant, the award-winning Caxton Grill, is an informal affair with 72 seats and a private dining room for 20. Light and airy, it overlooks the pretty courtyard garden and offers a mouth-watering selection of classic British dishes for lunch and dinner. Executive chef Alexander Boyd serves a seasonal menu that includes herbs from the hotel’s own rooftop garden, which is shares with 350,000 resident Buckfast bees. Large plates include grilled monkfish, pork chop with grilled apples, and an olive-fed Wagyu skirt steak. 


Discretion Advised 

Guests may want to tip a pint or nurse a cocktail at the Caxton Bar. The storied watering hole was once a haunt of Churchill, who enjoyed champagne at at the bar. It was also frequented by the notorious Cambridge Spies, double agents who worked for both Russia’s KGB and England’s SIS in the 1950s.


Classic light fare, wine flights, champagnes and whiskies are Caxton specialties. The best-known cocktails is the Bowler Hat: Sipsmith gin, lemon juice and honey from the rooftop bee terrace. Guests are encouraged to mingle with staff at a daily late-afternoon happy hour in the lobby. 


It’s true that, in the 21st Century, you won’t see an elaborate affair of women dressed to the nines in bodiced corsets, evoking Victorian fashion. But the stylish St. Ermin’s leaves it to your imagination to seek a bygone era. Its modern makeover comingles time-honored traditions for an unrivaled London stay. The welcoming and professional staff make you feel right at home. The hotel is also dog-friendly, with designated rooms for guests wishing to pamper their pups. 


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