St. Martin’s Lane Hotel, London Review
Is it worth staying in a hotel where you truly need a user’s manual for the hotel? In the case of the St. Martin’s Lane hotel in London, the answer is decidedly yes. It is also a visual delight with dramatic color and shape throughout the property including the guest rooms. If you make the effort to learn how certain aspects of the hotel operate, you will find it very rewarding.
The hotel’s staff provides personalized service on a level that very few hotels are able to, and the Covent Garden location couldn’t be nearer the West End theaters (Avenue Q was playing across the street from the hotel – naturally, I went to see it) and Trafalgar Square.
The hotel, similar to other Ian Schrager properties, was designed by Phillipe Starck. There are many things to admire about his designs but, as you will see, some things leave a bit to be desired.
Since the hotel has not yet prepared such a user’s manual, I have taken the liberty of doing so here.
ST. MARTINS LANE USER MANUAL
The room numbers are on the carpeting. Look down after you arrive on your floor and you will find your room.
St. Martins Lane has created a unique lift (elevator in the States) experience. Each lift has three monitors displaying short film clips. Many are produced by local filmmakers and even several members of the hotel’s staff are making films. Their presence in the lifts is both relaxing and intriguing at the same time.
Controlling Room Lighting
This is perhaps the most important and confusing aspect of this manual. If you do not follow the instructions carefully, you will find your desk glowing (and keeping you awake) during the night. [This happened to a colleague during my stay; since he could not find a switch to turn the glowing desk off, he threw a blanket over it.]
The desk is actually controlled by a switch near the room’s entrance. In fact, you will find that there are no centralized lighting controls; most lighting fixtures are controlled individually and many have metal pull-down controls (such as over the desk, bed lighting, over the sink in the W.C.). The lamps by the bed and over the desk have two settings, so pull twice if you want to read a book.
The St. Martin’s Lane Hotel offers a variety of seating surfaces. Do not attempt to sit in the Phillip Starck-designed clear molded plastic desk chair in your room and expect to find a comfortable working position; there is no such thing. Fortunately, the rooms have Wi-Fi so I was able to find a comfortable position (with laptop) on the bed by stacking pillows appropriately. David Bowd, the hotel’s general manager, has one of these chairs in his office as a reminder that he needs to “fix” this problem.
If you are attending a meeting, the sleek wooden chairs are elegant – and apparently not designed for extended sitting sessions (i.e. an entire day of meetings) . (The hotel reports that guest experiences with shorter, i.e. two-to-three hour meetings, have been more satisfactory.) I attended a two-day meeting with ca. 60 people, and at least half of the attendees (of all ages, shapes, and sizes, I might add) were complaining about the chairs. Several returned after a break with a pillow from the room.
Depending on the room configuration, you may find your desk chair on the window side of the desk, which provides less “seat pitch” than one would find on a budget airline. In my room, I moved the chair to the other side of the desk and moved the desk closer to the window. Of course, such an arrangement, given the chair in question, is not meant for use for any length of time.
Seating in the restaurant Asia de Cuba is a different story. Mr. Bowd should consider using these very chairs both in the guest rooms (although there might be a bit of a space limitation) as well as the meeting rooms.
Even if these chairs were not as good as they were, the food would make it all worthwhile. Breakfast includes a buffet of freshly-cut fruit, cereals of all types, juices (try the fresh apple juice), croissant, rolls, pastry, and a full English breakfast served at the table. Asia de Cuba for breakfast serves as a great breakfast meeting location, even for locals.
Dinner at Asia de Cuba is memorable. The cuisine fuses Asian and Cuban styles and portions are served family style (the larger your group for dinner, the better, as you will order more dishes for sharing) and you will want to come back for more.
The Light Bar, reserved for guests only, is well known in London for its cocktails and invitations are coveted, so invite a business colleague. Seating areas are bathed in vibrant colored lights. Chairs here are also comfortable.
Studio 1 and 2, when combined can seat 80 people in classroom style. The state-of-the-art rooms are ideal for meetings of this size, with built-in plasma monitors (one in Studio 1 and one in Studio 2, making viewing from a combined Studio 1 and 2 comfortable for all), Wi-Fi, smart boards, and electronic flip charts. Just bring a pillow if you intend to be sitting for a long time.
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.