Things they don’t build like they used to #103: multi-storey car parks. For evidence of exactly where and when that utilitarian architectural form reached its aesthetic acme, exit Bond Street from the back, skirt past Thom Sweeney, cross Brown Hart Gardens and behold 8 Balderton Street.
Staggeringly, the four-storey, neo-classical, column-lined, faux-Portland-stone construction you’ll find there – designed by Fortnum & Mason architects Wimperis and Simpson – opened in 1926 as what was, and what must surely still be, the most elaborate garage ever conceived.
More surprising still, given its locale in super-prime central London, the car park and petrol station – it opened as ‘Macy’s’ to serve denizens of neighbouring department store Selfridges – remained a home for automobiles until 2009. Dagenham Motors Ltd occupied the site from 1932 to the 1980s, before making way for Avis Rent-A-Car in the nineties.
Today, the orthogonal cotton-white building is Grade-II listed. In 2014 it opened as The Beaumont – the first hotel by hospitality power-duo Corbin & King (of The Ivy, Le Caprice, The Delaunay, The Wolseley, et al.). Last year, the hotel’s freeholder, the Grosvenor Estate, sold its lease to the Barclay brothers (The Ritz, Daily Telegraph, Spectator etc), with a for-sale price of between £125-£140million. Expect the hotel’s new proprietors to stamp their mark on the property imminently – rumours suggest a revamped and renamed bar – but for now The Beaumont remains the specific vision of former-owner Jeremy King.
To match the building’s Art-Deco exterior, King concocted a narrative that would inform all aspects of the hotel’s interior. The Beaumont, he imagined, was the work of fictional James Beaumont – Jimmy, to his friends – a discouraged American hotelier who escaped prohibition Manhattan to establish an eponymous guesthouse in pre-war Mayfair.
The result is warm-lit public areas of polished walnuts, bronze panthers and black-and-white photographs from the Roaring Twenties. Bedrooms – the hotel has 50 rooms and 23 suites – feature timber headboards, bronze mirroring, mohair-velvet chairs, large desks, silk curtains, geometric carpets and monochrome marble bathrooms. There’s also ROOM, a three-storey inhabitable sculpture by Turner Prize-winner Antony Gormley (best known for the Angel of the North). From the outside, it’s a giant crouching cuboid figure on the left of the hotel’s façade. Inside, it’s one of the world’s most extraordinary, and secluded, one-bedroom suites.
The walls of the timber-panelled American Bar, around which the hotel is centred, are entirely covered by period photos. At the back of the bar is the Colony Grill Room, a moody, masculine American diner with blood-red leather banquettes and, on our visit at least, plenty of real-life Noo Yaukers. The signature ‘Beaumont’ cocktail – gin, sherry, sugar, champagne – is as good as its ingredients suggest; the rib-eye steak – over-cooked, sinewy, yours for £37.50 – impressed far less.
Awards, The Beaumont’s had a few. The Best Small Hotel in the World in 2018, according to the The Gallivanter’s Guide; one of the 25 best on the planet, according to TripAdvisor in the same year. The Beaumont’s greatest achievement, however, must surely be the fact that in less than half a decade it’s become what all great hotels aspire to be – an institution.
That and the fact that never in a million years would you guess you were bedding down in a disused car park.
8 Balderton Street, Brown Hart Gardens, London W1K 6TF www.thebeaumont.com