Where The Brass Bands Play… The Grand Hotel Brighton
Britain’s most famous address still allows you to get your tiddly-om pom pom on.
The Victorian era is back, gilded and glorious, lobbing elaborate ornaments at minimalism. During Queen Victoria’s reign the British Empire was in full swing and decadence came as standard. The kind of unapologetic grandeur that doesn’t stop to ask if there can ever be too much floral. And now it seems, from the ashes of modern neutrals and bland prefab, Victoriana is rising again.
We’ve arrived in Brighton, the Miami of Victorian England; a town that extended its hitherto royally exclusive pizazz to the hoi polloi, when the steel tracks of progress brought carriages of fun seekers to its pebbly playground. Those lording it up in their top hats and bustles would have been all too familiar with the bold façade of The Grand Hotel. Now a bona fide, stucco-fronted slab of British history, it perches handsomely on of one of the most famous seafronts in the world.
The Grand heralds itself as an iconic institution – and it has every right to, complete with a smiling (and hatted) concierge called Colin, who expertly ushers us in from the cold. Inside, the 19th century architecture and marbled pillars soar. And that staircase. Just wandering through the lobby is an assault on the senses, welcome relief from recession-fuelled belt-tightening.
Following a multi-million pound investment, all 201 rooms are being refurbished and the tide of the 21st century is incoming. Some suites still feature the array of ornate furniture and mismatched Victorian florals; others have been renovated with classic-contemporary chic. Something for everyone. Our newly finished suite on the 6th floor is a lesson in tasteful comfort. And the view… It draws you in; the magnetic pull of a 180 degree ocean vista.
We take a walk down to the pebbled beach, dodging seagulls as we go. In it’s heyday the town was quite a place; an hedonistic Shangri-La, well established on the social map and brimming with available soldiers. Brighton Pier juts brazenly from the shore, flaunting its fairground rides and arcades to the thrill-seekers. It has wilfully survived countless attacks to its infrastructure, including fire, IRA bombs and bashings from a 70-ton barge that broke free during a particularly persistent storm. Nearby, the Grade I listed West Pier, which all but succumbed to the elements and suspected arsonists (or insurance-creaming owners*) in 2004, is being reconstructed thanks to some private funding to the tune of £20 million.
Of an evening, the Grand hosts “Live and Swinging” jazz nights, featuring the big band swing songs that made Frank a household name. Not tonight though, so we head to dinner, high on the effects of fresh sea air and champagne. GB1 at The Grand, the recently opened restaurant, is presided over by Executive Chef Alan White. Our Maitre d’ seats us at the central oyster bar, all stainless steel and marble (unlikely but inspired bedfellows), laden with fresh seafood and serving highly recommended Cucumber Sours – a revelation. Subliminal touches combine with perfect execution; the well selected wine list, the historical aestheticism, the faultless service. We dine on locally-caught crab, impossibly fresh; delicately sweet lobster, turbot that melts in the mouth. Contented bliss.
There’s an irony of being immersed in Victorian antiquities whilst exploring the self-proclaimed Gay Capital of the South. Apparently Victorian men were advised to conserve their vital health, by ‘avoiding fornication and nocturnal emissions’. Times sure have changed, and London’s favourite vibrant seaside resort has it all.
Dinner over, we make our way into the night, punch drunk and feeling dandy. (*allegedly)