LONDON — Our favorite London hotel didn't feel the brunt of cancellations by nervous American tourists. It's the English who patronize the Ebury Court Hotel. In from the country for business, the theater or shopping, this unpretentious little hotel fits their needs and their sense of propriety.
Three two-story Georgian row houses, haphazardly joined, create a small hotel that you could call cozy and endearing but never cute. Over the years I've checked in alone, with family, with friends. Do those two familiar faces presiding at the pocket-size crescent of a reception desk show any sign of recognition? Never.
Cocoon of Privacy
This is no coddling bed-and-breakfast inn, and that's exactly what I want in London. The English reserve offers me a cocoon of privacy.
In February, on an unscheduled London stopover, I called from Heathrow for a room, keeping fingers crossed tight. Jet lag from Air India's Flight 107 persuaded me to try for a break in the Bombay-Los Angeles trip.
Still punchy from a farewell party half a world away that lasted until one hour before the Hotel Taj Mahal's 2 a.m. wake-up call, I yearned for the Ebury Court the way Eliza Doolittle yearned for the "enormous chair" that would make everything "loverly."
For the last three hours in the air I'd been fantasizing about the canopied bed with its lace-lined tester, the pale pink scalloped pique eiderdown, even those ladylike framed flower prints, Staffordshire ashtrays, porcelain lamps and the inevitable fresh white-painted woodwork.
Britain could hardly have blessed me with a more timely or welcome gift on that bleak, dirty-snow morning. An Oxford don had just canceled his reservation for Room 9, my very favorite at the end of a narrow ell with its facing windows.
At 26 Ebury St., SW1, the little blue, green and white lobby was cheering, warmed by its coal grate. I ordered a pot of tea and sank blissfully into a familiar, dowdy, slightly sprung, flowered-chintz lounge chair. Maybe not Eliza's dream chair, but close enough.
Except on state occasions when Ebury Street is on the route of the Royal Horse Guards, London's bantam cars and red buses hum back and forth from Buckingham Palace Gardens two blocks to the east, to Sloane Square a few blocks west.
Tall black taxis emerge from Victoria Station's side entrance only a few steps around the corner, and Heathrow Airbus Terminals at the opposite end of this short two-lane street generates its own traffic. But the noise is muted, non-intrusive in winter.
The Ebury Court's neat little brochure states that it has 38 bedrooms, all with "constant hot water." Singles rooms 32 (about $46), with shower 34, doubles 48 (about $70), with private bath 58. None spacious enough for bulky luggage. Visa and MasterCard accepted.
"We serve all meals, including afternoon tea. Tables can be booked for lunch and dinner between noon and 2 p.m. and 7 and 9 p.m. Children under 5 upstairs please. Pre-theatre suppers can also be arranged from 6:30 p.m.
"The bar at Ebury Court is in the Club--which means that hotel residents who are not Members should ask the Porters to bring them drinks. Should you wish to be a temporary Member of the Club, please ask to see the Secretary."
We always do, and pay 1 for the privilege of sipping our aperitifs or whiskeys in the Members' Bar, the nearest thing to glamour in the hotel.
A Perfect R&R
Sometimes I return to the Ebury's comfortableness for a perfect R&R. Sometimes for the breakfasts.
In the small dining room, all nooks and alcoves, with its white and black satin-striped wallpaper, black lacquer tables for two or four, gold-framed hunting prints, tasseled rosy lamp shades that give the hush a glow, I feel set down in Act 1 of a West End comedy. British equivalent of Central Casting supplies the characters.
There's shaggy Lord Makepeace-Horotin absorbed in the Economist, having his usual porridge and tea before his broiled haddock. The waitress doesn't disturb him--she knows his order.
And the maidenly misses Sloughton, in from Minister Lovell for the day, whispering over their sausage, omelets and sauteed tomatoes.
At the Next Table
Next to my table a handsomely tailored young couple discusses last night's "Swan Lake" at Covent Garden.
Brolleys hang on a Victorian clothes tree with Burberrys and bowlers and Scottish tweed caps.
Get-up treat for me, a bread freak, is the aroma of crusty whole wheat loaves the chef bakes daily. Fresh sweet butter, bitter marmalade. "No eggs, madame?" No, thank you, just strawberries with Devonshire cream, please.
If I should land in London and find no room at this inn, I'd at least toddle over to Belgravia for the Ebury's lunch or dinner, even though they won't greet me as a long-lost cousin.
The Ebury Court phone number is (01) 730-8147.
For further information about England, contact the British Tourist Authority, 612 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90017.