9 Oct 2023
From Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra, the biggest names of the big screen and stage have waltzed through the revolving doors of the Savoy and graced its iconic venues since its opening on 6 August, 1889. Delve into the history books to discover everything you need to know about London’s most famous hotel, the Savoy.
Watch The Savoy come to life
In the beginning
Standing in a coveted position, saddled between The Strand and River Thames, London’s Savoy is an iconic hotel in the heart of the West End. Standing on the site of the former Savoy Barracks, Savoy Hospital, and before that the Savoy Palace, the hotel was built by the Victorian-era entertainment and hospitality mover and shaker Richard D’Oyly Carte, in 1889, as the very first luxury hotel in Britain.
Carte also built two of London’s theatres, including the Savoy Theatre, located next to the hotel; ran an entertainment talent agency and an opera company, having great influence in London’s West End during the late 1900s — right up until his death in 1901 at his London home, at the age of 57. Interestingly, the Savoy Group remained in the Carte family and its associates until as recently as 1994.
The Savoy and hotelier Carte were pioneers, with the hotel becoming the first in Britain to introduce electricity, an unlimited supply of hot water to the 67 bathrooms and a mechanism to support a lift, which had to be imported from the US due to a lack of manufacturer making them in the UK at that time. The hotel’s kitchens were equally as innovative, with chef Escoffier reorganising the kitchen into stages (stations). Today, 130 years later, this remains to be how most large restaurant kitchens are organised.
Creating a legend
It was at the Savoy that César Ritz, hired as the hotel’s manager in 1889, and the grandfather of haute cuisine, Auguste Escoffier, hired as chef de cuisine, first met. The two would later establish the Ritz on London’s prestigious Piccadilly.
Ritz is widely credited with the Savoy’s early success. Under his helm the hotel drew the most distinguished of clientele, including the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal family from the UK and Europe. The Savoy, and the standards set by Carte, Ritz and Escoffier, in turn set the bar for luxury hotels in the UK.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, “Led by the prince of Wales [the Savoy] became the meeting place for London high society and the nouveaux riches of the British empire….
“[The] food and the ambience lured people from the clubs to dine in public and give great parties there. It allowed ladies, hitherto fearful of dining in public, to be seen in full regalia in the Savoy dining and supper rooms.”
Inside the hotel
The Savoy’s traditional Edwardian and Art Deco style runs through public areas of the hotel, too. In 2007, the hotel closed for a sympathetic top-to-toe, three-year refurbishment, led by French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.
Today, the Grade II-listed Savoy is home to 267 guest rooms, designed in classic Edwardian and Art Deco style, ranging from Queen rooms to the sumptuous Royal Suite. Multiple restaurants include the stunning glass-domed Thames Foyer for divine afternoon tea and Kaspar’s at The Savoy for delicious seafood. There’s also Savoy Grill by Gordon Ramsey and Simpson’s in the Strand. For imbibing, there are three venues to choose from, the American Bar, Beaufort Bar, and Simpson’s in the Strand Bar, all exuding timeless glamour. There’s also a luxurious pool, sauna and steam room for indulgent spa days.
If walls could talk
The storied American Bar’s guest book reads like a who’s who of the world’s biggest stars, with Noel Coward, Elton John, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe and F. Scott Fitzgerald just a few of the big names to have checked in.
The oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, the American Bar first opened in 1893, serving ‘American-style’ drinks. Over the decades, countless musicians and songwriters have entertained guests in the bar — there’s even a cocktail menu dedicated to the performers who’ve played there and an accompanying live album recorded by the American Bar’s resident pianist, Jon Nickoll. The American Bar has also been awarded Best Bar in the World in recognition of its all-round star status. Take a seat and opt for a sumptuous Moonwalk cocktail, created by former head barman, Joe Gilmore, to honour Neil Armstrong’s 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.
With experimental cocktails, plush black and gold interiors and a moody ambiance, Beaufort Bar is equally as glamorous. You’d be forgiven for sinking into one of the bar’s luxurious velvet chairs never wanting to leave. If you do leave the hotel, Covent Garden, the West End, Trafalgar Square and the Southbank are on the hotel’s doorstep, offering the best of London shopping, sightseeing and shows.