Staying power

Boutique hotels have forced a rethink in the design of prestige hotel bars, says Bethan Ryder.

Veteran restaurant consultant Roy Ackerman was responsible for the concept, and took designer Brenton Smith of Bennett Interior Design on a tour of classic continental venues such as Madrid’s Café Commercial and Les Deux Magots in Paris to achieve the desired effect. Aiming for an informal, flexible, all-day atmosphere, Ackerman moved the bar to make it the centrepiece. In-keeping with the grandeur of the host building, drapes were used to conceal awkward spaces and difficult structural elements. As Ackerman explains, ‘Brenton didn’t want to use plain finishes, but wanted to give it a sense of luxury and the taste of something a bit classier.’

Again the material du jour, white carrara marble, has been used for table tops and seats are upholstered in charcoal leather, while modernity comes in the form of contemporary art wrapped around the lower part of ten original pillars.

Another far younger Hilton property, The Trafalgar, has also refurbished its Rockwell bar. The original lobby bar had about as much intimacy as Victoria Station, and dreadful Tube-train like upholstery to match. Explaining the makeover, general manager Dirk Dalichau says, ‘London is a very fast-moving market. We wanted to refresh and enhance the product and make it more accessible, comfortable and intimate for people. It was about creating flow and atmosphere.’

Swedish design group Stylt Trampoli improved the link between the ground floor bar and basement level by adding a second staircase, plus a second bar below. Black, fringed pendant lamps suspended at lower levels make the space more intimate and new black and white furniture has been organised to allow for a variety of seating options. ‘Rockwell now attracts an older, more affluent demographic and the customers tend to stay longer,’ says Dalichau.

At the new Riverbank Plaza hotel, the Chino Latino Brasserie Lounge and Bar was designed by hotel design specialist EADL to an Asian-Mediterranean concept developed at Plaza hotels in Nottingham and Leeds. EADL associate interior designer Rico Nanty says: ‘Plaza was originally looking to attract customers directly off the street. It wanted a destination place and not just a hotel bar, so it made it a flexible lounge with quite a clubby atmosphere. So it could be a dining room, but there was also a DJ console for later.’

White leather furniture lends a sense of luxury and decadence – like owning a white coat, it screams, ‘I can afford to keep this immaculate.’ Nanty says: ‘It’s a bold venture and there is the maintenance aspect, but it’s a great way of showing off furniture and quality finishes against a background of dark colours [inherited from the original design].’ Large red floral artworks provide colour and add warmth to the space.

Located on the south bank of the Thames next door to a swanky all-suite club and residence, Plaza on the River, the bar’s intention is to provide a relaxed atmosphere and any frantic bar action is concealed by etched-glass screens, inspired by the Tihany Design-created bar at the Mandarin Oriental. ‘It’s the owner’s favourite place in town, so this element really makes him feel at home,’ says Nanty. ‘In the evenings it relies on the buzz of the crowd to create interest rather than anything else.’

In these ‘post-Schrager’ days, hotel bars are fading back into being unobtrusive backdrops in which the guests, rather than design, are the main focus. Nanty says: ‘I think we’re seeing a return to cosiness, hoteliers want people to stay and feel comfortable and not just walk into a lobby bar and say, “Oh, I’ve seen it now,” and then walk out again.’

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