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Where Oscar Wilde hallucinated and Bowie partied, a hotel is born

October 25, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds
  • The upscale Cafe Royal hotel, scheduled to re-open in December, occupies a historic building on London's Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus.
The upscale Cafe Royal hotel, scheduled to re-open in December, occupies… (Cafe Royal. )

London’s Café Royal, born in 1865 and reborn through the decades as a party place where Oscar Wilde hallucinated on absinthe and David Bowie celebrated the “retirement” of his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, is about to be reborn again. In its new life, the Café Royal will be a luxury hotel that mingles historical gravitas with contemporary interior design.

The new Café Royal, due to open Dec. 1 after a four-year closure for revamping, includes 159 guest rooms, two fancy restaurants, a brasserie, an indoor pool and a spa. Oh yes, and a café.

The hotel is the second location in a fledgling upscale European collection called the Set, following the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam, which opened last year. The Israel-based developers behind the Set are Alfred and Georgi Akirov.  

The Café Royal’s late-fall opening isn't the first choice of management, which had aimed to reopen in time for London’s Summer Olympics. But for travelers with plump bank accounts who seek a fresh alternative to traditional luxury spots like the Connaught and the Dorchester, Café Royal could be tempting.

It stands on Regent Street, steps from Piccadilly Circus, an easy stroll from the luxe retail of Mayfair (just west) and the artsy buzz of Soho (just east).

How high-end will the place be? A thousand tons of Carrara marble went into the bathrooms. All the rooms are at least 400 square feet (a few suites are more than 1,500). Introductory rates are expected to start around $500 (before the VAT tax of 20%). In April, the starting rates will likely rise another $200 or so.

Obviously, the hoteliers are aiming for a well-heeled, well-mannered new audience. But they'd probably settle for the survivors who remain from the "retirement" party Bowie threw in the dining room on July 4, 1973.

Mick and Bianca Jagger were there, along with Lou Reed and Jeff Beck. By various accounts, the party also included Ringo and Maureen Starr, Barbra Streisand, Elliott Gould, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Tony Curtis, perhaps Paul and Linda McCartney and Keith Moon, possibly Sonny Bono, Ryan O’Neal, Brit Ekland and Cat Stevens. Not all of these guests are visible in the grainy old photographs on the Web, but it’s worth a look just for Lou Reed’s perm, which only Phil Spector could love.

Even if they start stocking the Café Royal bar with absinthe again, that’s a sight you’re unlikely to see again.

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