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Hotel's Good Enough for Aunt Millie

April 10, 1988|MICHAEL CARLTON | Carlton is an editor for the Atlanta Constitution and Journal

LONDON — Actress Lauren Bacall, never an easy person to please, stayed at the Halcyon for 10 days; no complaints, all roses.

If it's good enough for Lauren, Aunt Millie, I suppose it's good enough for us. But sell the stock, old girl, because this place is made for the well-to-do, the expense-account crowd, movie stars and such.

The least expensive room at the Halcyon is about $170 U.S. a night for a single, $225 for a double. Suites begin at $350. Not outrageous by London luxury hotel standards, but pricey enough.

If you are willing to leave home carrying such large sums of cash for a hotel room, you won't find a finer accommodation in all of London, perhaps not in all of England, although my fondness for New Milton's charming Chewton Glen Hotel makes me put it in the same elite category.

Quiet Neighborhood

The Halcyon is in a handsome Georgian town house in Holland Park about 20 minutes from the heart of London. It is well-placed in a quiet neighborhood, right next door to the Cameroon Embassy, far from the grime and crime of central London.

Large trees line the street where the Halcyon stands in its imposing and polished state, and large backyards run for hundreds of feet behind neighboring houses, making for a quiet disturbed only occasionally by the call of a thrush. There are no traffic noises, no honking of horns, no loud conversations to sully your sleeping time.

The Halcyon has an "Upstairs, Downstairs" feel about it. Maids walk about in long black dresses, black stockings, black shoes, starched white aprons and white caps. Very English, this.

The small lobby looks more like grandmother's living room than a hotel reception area. The fireplace has brass lion-headed andirons, a grandfather clock ticks away in one corner and there's a huge spray of fresh lilies in the bay window. An ornate writing desk is available for those who wish to jot a note, the floor is green marble, and fine Oriental carpets soften your step.

From the lobby a series of hallways twist and turn like the course of a maze: Down 10 feet and to the left, then another dozen steps and to the right, up three stairs and down four. And there's your room.

Ah, and what a room. The walls are covered in sheered fabric the color of a robin's egg. The canopy bed is large and luscious with comfort, the huge down pillows ready to induce instant sleep.

In one corner an antique wooden screen provides added drama; a velvet shawl is tossed over its top. Two large vases are filled with miniature white carnations and baby's breath.

Overstuffed Comfort

The furniture is dark walnut, the sofa provides overstuffed comfort, and a TV set has all the English channels, cable news from the United States and in-house movies. The room's Oriental lamps have light pink shades. A mini-bar is well stocked with premium liquor and wines.

The baths are massive, with marble and brass shining in the sunlight. The large tub allows a six-footer to stretch out his entire length comfortably, and the nearby towel rack is heated.

The bathroom amenities are bountiful: Molton Brown Orange Grove bubble bath and Petals of Magnolia body lotion, Czech and Speake soaps, bath oil and shampoo, Savon milk soap, cotton balls resting in a handsome green box. There's a lush terry cloth bathrobe to warm you after your bath.

Each of the hotel's 44 rooms is different; all are lovely.

Room service is available 24 hours, but most guests will probably want to dine in the hotel's Kingfisher restaurant, which is already the darling of the English elite.

The small bar is very chic, and the dining room is one of the most beautiful anywhere, with stone floors, white lattice on the walls, marble columns and palm trees providing a festive backdrop for some of the finest food in England: John Dory with oranges and lime, poached salmon with baby vegetables, noisettes of venison, grilled sea bass with ginger and fennel. All superb.

Strolling to Gardens

A walk after such a dinner is engaging, especially in this neighborhood. Holland Park is just two minutes away, and its renowned rose gardens are well worth the stroll. You'll probably be joined in your walk by tweedy English dowagers and their plump, panting dogs.

If you would rather shop than smell the roses, the hotel provides complimentary 24-hour limousine service to London's West End shopping district. And if you don't speak English, the hotel staff is also fluent in French, German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Hindi and Malay.

Aunt Millie, this place is worth the expense, if only for a night. But I suspect that you'll want to stay at least 10 nights, just like Lauren Bacall. It's only money, old girl.

The Halcyon can be booked in the United States by contacting V.S.O. Hotels, 1155 Avenue of the Americas, New York 10036, phone (800) 237-1236.

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