What? Who? Why? The W Hotel
I had been to the W Leicester Square before. In June 2011, the hotel launched its (W)riters’ Library, commissioning ten authors to choose their favourite books to populate the shelves of the hotel’s library. I was one of those authors, joining Geoff Dyer, David Nicholls and Naomi Alderman (amongst others) at the glitzy opening bash. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the proximity of the library to the hotel’s bar, that the books are now mainly gone, replaced by forgettably trendy coffee-table tomes. I was sorry to see that Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford was one of those still waiting to be stolen. It’s a charming book.
After the launch party last summer, we repaired for dinner to the excellent South Asian restaurant attached to the hotel, Spice Market. Sitting on the upper floor, which looks out over the lights of Chinatown, we saw bored-looking prostitutes in the buildings opposite leaning on their window sills and smoking out into the muggy air.
I was reminded of those prostitutes when I returned to stay a night at the W in December. The sheet of satiny fabric that hung behind the bed in my room recalled the material of one of the girls’ dresses. It was unpleasant, almost greasy to the touch and entirely unnecessary in a room that was glitzy enough without it.
I’m not the W’s target audience. In the throbbing heart of London, minutes from Piccadilly Circus and perched hungrily above the baffling M&M’s World (a superstore dedicated to chocolate-covered peanuts), the W is very much a tourist destination. Owned by the Starwood Group, the W brand has been a success story in the ‘States, but its first London venture feels like the relic of a bygone era. Everything shimmers with pre-financial crisis baubles; the hotel itself looks like a neoned-up version of a Wall Street office; the bar is like something from a Bret Easton Ellis novel (he was another of the writers in the library), an extraordinary postmodern Inferno.
What have they got right? Hmmm. Crisp, soft sheets on the beds; good cocktails once you elbow past the chinos at the bar; a powerful shower in a pleasantly futuristic bathroom (although, being English, I mourn the lack of a bath). The breakfast in Spice Market was a real treat: I am an eggs Benedict aficionado and these were near-perfect.
But I couldn’t help feeling an air of desperation about the place. This hotel will have cost a fortune to build, harking back as it does to an era of financial silliness. It is the sort of place that needs to be full, needs to channel the NY/LA vibe, with beautiful creatures draped around the bar and Gumball 3000 supercars roaring up, outside. Instead, the clientele seemed to be made up of rather portly middle-aged Americans who’d clearly spent the day at M&M’s World and looked thoroughly bemused by the glitterballs and bling.
Let me reiterate: this is not a hotel aimed at someone like me. It is situated in a part of London that I rarely visit, crammed as it is with meandering tourists and the vultures who prey upon them. It will be interesting to see how long Starwood stands behind this anachronistic venture. It already feels like a piece of history.