Blakes Hotel, London. England ****

Q: What is it? A: Anouska Hempel’s first venture into the world of hotels, which became known as the world’s first boutique hotel – opening its doors to the public in 1978.

*** Click on this text for a more recent review of the Blakes Hotel! ***

Image snapped a wintery morning outside 33 Roland Gardens in South Kensington.

Image snapped a wintery morning outside 33 Roland Gardens in South Kensington.

Anouska Hempel claims to have been born on a boat en route from Papau New Guinea to New Zealand. Is that reflected in the Blakes design?

Anouska Hempel claims to have been born on a boat en route from Papau
New Guinea to New Zealand. Is that reflected in the Blakes design?

It opened its doors to the first guests in 1978.
At the same time Ian Schrager was partying himself into the dust and smoke of Studio 54 and a ticket to New York was well beyond most people’s reach. The woman behind the hotel is a former actress, whose participation in the soft porn flick ‘Blacksnake’ (1973) is often mentioned to spice up her appearances in the press. What Anouska Hempel managed to do before anybody else, was to create a hotel out of two Victorian townhouses, thus creating the formula for what is still known as a ’boutique hotel’.

Here’s how you do it:
Take a limited number of rooms (the small format is one way to spot a boutique) and for each one of these rooms you will develop different themes/styles. Then you make sure that service is personal and of higher standard (just like in a boutique) and charge a premium for it (just like a boutique would do). The Blakes Hotel has 48 rooms of which 9 are suites. The Blakes is still a very good hotel but it gets mixed reviews. Any visitor to the Tripadvisor.com website will discover just that. In these reviews, travellers are debating whether a hotel, which you’ll find in the # 522 spot (out of a total of 1019) of those reviewed in London, should be able to charge their guests as much as the Blakes. I think these reviewers have a point.

Book a suite and not a room.
In the suites, Anouska Hempel’s genius will become visible. In the smaller rooms you probably won’t find air conditioning – so avoid these during the British summer. Also, you may discover that some of the rooms have little signs of wear and tear. The staff is aware of this and will most of the time be able to get you a new room without any fuss. The restaurant ‘Thai’ is very good and the bar is even better. The bartenders are very skilled and know how to keep the conversation going. Vibes at the Blakes are good.
The trick that the Blakes manage to pull off so well is to create an atmosphere of intimacy (just like a boutique). You will not be dazzled when entering the lobby (it’s more like boarding a steam ocean liner). Space, interior design, furniture and colours work together to make you a less public person. The vision of Anouska Hempel is the antidote of Ian Schrager’s, where the hotel – think the Sanderson or the Delano – is a scene where you can show yourself off. These days you’ll find a small gym at the hotel, as well as wireless high-speed internet, but you will be surprised when you see what they want to charge you for that pretty basic service, so you’d better get connected somewhere else.

Blakes Hotel London
33 Roland Gardens
South Kensington
London SW7 3PF
+44-8707-544-447

*** Click on this text for a more recent review of the Blakes Hotel! ***

Click here to book the Blakes Hotel through TabletHotels.com!

UPDATE: Anouska Hempel sold Blakes to the people at GuestInvest – a company who bought hotel properties and sold the rooms to investors. Anouska Hempel remained somewhat active in the business but Guestinvest collapsed in October 2008 after banks pulled the plug during the financial turmoil. In the news following the collapse it was mentioned about the Blakes that ”…this hotel trades profitably, and is likely to be sold as a going concern by the administrators.”
Investors Navid Mirtorabi and Meir Abutbul, both with long experience from the hospitality industry bought the hotel in 2010. They also brought Anouska Hempel back to be in charge of design and styling.

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