Things were pretty quiet during my recent trip to the capital (for obvious reasons) but one place which was still lively was The Stafford hotel in central London.
Having stayed at a charming but extremely quiet hotel in Westminster the previous night, I had assumed that it would be a similar picture at the five-star luxury hotel The Stafford, which is in St James’s, just off Piccadilly, one of London’s main thoroughfares. After all, tourist and business visitor numbers are down, Piccadilly was practically deserted and I’ve never seen so few people outside Buckingham Palace.
Staying at The Stafford hotel
To my surprise though, The Stafford was, in comparison, positively buzzing. Having had an eerily quiet walk here, it felt as if The Stafford was a little oasis where people still met to enjoy themselves, a kind of Rick’s Bar of St James’s. It helped that the weather was bright and warm, so people were making the most of The Stafford’s lovely courtyard terrace, a hidden oasis just off Piccadilly where groups who were getting stuck into lunchtime drinks were still there at the 10pm curfew (when the outside heaters came in handy).
In fact, it seemed as if The Stafford was a hotel with two very different aspects. From the front, The Stafford is a grand, luxury hotel just off St James’s in Piccadilly whose equally grand hotel neighbours include St James’s hotel and club, Dukes London and of course, The Ritz.
When you arrive at The Stafford, the door staff are extremely welcoming and friendly for such a grand hotel and the lobby and lounge are the very definition of calm, traditional refinement.
However when you walk through the grand refinement of the hotel, with its beautiful artwork and opulent furnishings, suddenly you come across something rather different: a room where hundreds and hundreds of items, from teddy bears and model aircraft to flags, sport pennants and baseball caps are hanging from the ceiling.
This is the famed American Bar at The Stafford and during my visit was as jam-packed as Covid regulations would allow (this was just before London went into Tier 2 and before the second national lockdown). Possibly because it was just before the impending restrictions but people seemed to be indulging even more than normal, a last minute chance for fun before the bars shut, and as the American Bar seems to be from another time altogether this was the perfect venue for the final hurrah (while being a hurrah with masks and antibac).
The American Bar at The Stafford
According to the hotel’s history, during the 1930s most West End hotels in London renamed their bar ‘The American Bar’ in an attempt to attract the business of the increasing numbers of visitors from the US, and they all started serving exotic cocktails such as Manhattans, Sidecars and Martinis. While most hotels have since renamed their bars, The Stafford remains one of only two in London that have kept the name (the other one being the Savoy).
But the unique thing about The Stafford’s American Bar is the sheer amount of stuff which is packed into a fairly small space. No inch of the ceilings or walls is left uncovered: there are ties, baseball caps, photographs, model planes and teddy bears; all donated by visitors over the years, many who had relatives with some connection to The Stafford’s war-time years. Canadian and American officers even lived downstairs in the wine cellars (of which more later) which were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War and there are many war-time tributes as well as general North American-memorabilia.
Either way, it is a unique place to enjoy some very nice but rather pricy cocktails and is a must-visit for fans of London’s famous hotel bars. I booked a table for myself and my fellow travel blogger Amanda (of The Boutique Adventurer) and was shown to my bedroom which was located in the Mews Suite, just a few steps from the main hotel building and which overlooks the courtyard.
The bedrooms at The Stafford hotel
Walking into the suite – officially a Mews Master Suite – was like stepping into my own luxury apartment (which was indeed as big as my flat) and contained an entrance hall, guest loo, walk-in hall cupboard, a huge living room with a desk and two sofas and the bedroom itself, equally huge and luxurious.
The main bathroom had a deep, fast-filling bath, separate walk-in shower, loo and two sinks facing one another, all well stocked with luxury toiletries. It was the kind of room which you instantly filmed to make your friends extremely envious (it worked) and the icing on the cake was a lovely welcome touch of a complimentary bottle of Moet and my ALadyofLeisure.com logo picked out in chocolate, a first.
When I’d stayed here before (here’s my previous review of The Stafford) there had been little omissions – no conditioner for some reason unless by request – but that certainly wasn’t the case now and it was exactly the kind of hotel room I felt I could stay in for a week. While it was tempting to get straightaway on the Champagne, I resisted and instead spent a very production afternoon working from the lounge. With fast wifi and plug points everywhere it was the ideal WFH (working from hotel) venue and I was pleased that I’d got there super-early to make the most of it.
However as the sun began to set the American Bar was calling, and so it was time for a couple of very nice (if rather pricy) cocktails underneath a variety of flags and other assorted items.
As well as a pre-lockdown treat, the American Bar would be an ideal place for a date. Not only is there a substantial cocktail menu, but if you ran out of conversation you could play ‘name the celebrity’ in the many photographs of yesteryear which line the walls. Thankfully before we managed to rack up a huge bill at the bar – which at £20 a pop I suspect is easily done – it was time for dinner at The Stafford hotel’s restaurant, the Game Bird.
The menu at The Stafford hotel restaurant
The menu was clearly laid out and bore the sign of a restaurant which took its food very seriously. The first section, Smoked & Cured, was entirely devoted to smoked salmon from H Forman & Sons (which claims to be the ‘world’s finest smoked salmon’) – you could choose from London cure, Beetroot cure or the Balvenie cure – and garnishes included egg, cucumber, dill pickle, mustard dressing, horseradish creme fraiche and soda bread. There was also a section devoted to steaks: rib-eye, sirloin and fillet, with Cafe de Paris butter, bearnaise or peppercorn sauce to accompany.
The rest of the menu was taken up with five starters, including ‘London Particular’ (traditional soup made with split peas and ham), game pate and Caesar salad, while the nine mains were classic, traditional, British fare: pithivier with truffle sauce, dover sole, roasted grouse and beer-battered haddock. Because it felt exactly like the place you’d want to really push the boat out – the menu reminded me of Rules in Covent Garden, one of my all-time favourite restaurants – I started with the dressed Devon crab and then my dining partner Amanda and I, said at exactly the same time, ‘Why don’t we have the Beef Wellington?’ (it was for two to share) and it was decided.
The dressed crab starter was excellent – I’m not even a huge crab fan but I loved it, and I know that true crab afficianados would have been in heaven – and the Beef Wellington was the ideal dish to have at this type of restaurant, served at the table in great ritual and done to perfection. The wines chosen by the sommelier were excellent too – he chose two glasses of each colour at requested for each course, and kindly wrote them down on a bit of paper so we knew what we were drinking as we’d gone ‘off-menu’. We were too full for desserts which looked typical British – even reminiscent of school days, with Lyle’s golden syrup pudding being one of them – but enjoyed coffees before heading off to our two vast suites, a real highlight of the stay.
After a dreamless sleep and gorgeously hot and foaming bath the following morning (with The Stafford’s rubber duck) it was time for a breakfast back at The Game Bird restaurant. Service was prompt, the coffee was excellent and the Eggs Florentine and Eggs Royale were perfectly sized and perfectly cooked.
We were then given a tour of the hotel and, as I recommended in my last review, everyone should ask for one if they’re staying at The Stafford as there are so many interesting nooks and crannies which you would miss otherwise. A definite highlight is the cellars which not only house hundreds of bottles of fine wine, but where American and Canadian troops were stationed during World War II. At the far end of the cellar there is a collection of war-time equipment and newspapers which were left behind and evoke a different time altogether.
There are rumours that there is a secret tunnel from these cellars to the Royal Palace of St James’s which is just down the road, and the cellars themselves can be hired out for wine-tastings and private parties.
Our tour continued with a look at some of the other rooms, in particular the Penthouse suite which has an outside terrace, large lounge and office space – increasingly essential these days.
Opposite the Mews Suites is the Carriage House, a collection of rooms and suites in a historic 380-year old building, which was once the former stables of British nobleman and politician Lord Francis Godolphin, and at the end, the three-story Gate House which is effectively a whole house in the heart of St James’s.
Indeed, what is lovely about the location of The Stafford is that, while the entrance is on a quiet street parallel with the street of St James’s itself, the cobbled courtyard backs straight onto the road via a tiny and discreet passage, so you don’t have to walk through the entire hotel and round every time you want to go out. This means that you can leave your room and be on Piccadilly in less than a minute, and it doesn’t get much more central than that.
Even better, when the hotel is open again you can impress your friends by walking up St James’s, ducking into a non-descript alleyway, and then surprising them with a gorgeous open air bar. A true hidden gem and perfect for outdoor drinking in these current times. And if you can afford to treat yourself to a night here, even better!
Hotel information and to book The Stafford hotel
The Stafford, 16-18 St James’s Pl, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NJ, United Kingdom
Classic rooms start from £340 per night, while rooms in the Carriage House start from £520 and Mews Master Suites start from £1,050.
The Stafford hotel is a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, a worldwide collection of luxury hotels.
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