May we pause to celebrate the resplendent creation that is the train station terminal hotel? Their opulence was a testament to the wealth of the train company that built them, and their direct access to the platforms was a sublime novelty. The Grosvenor, London's first luxury railway hotel, opened in 1862—it even was the first hotel in town to install a lift—and it can still give you goosebumps and make you feel like you're the central character in a romantic novel. The gold leaf, sweeping staircases, and statuary (the galleried lobby is protected by law) didn't always look this smashing. For many years, these railway hotels were seen as passé, and despite its palatial Italianiate facade, this one was ignobly slapped with drab paint and the rooms went shabby.
Just look at her now. A recent £20 million renvoation restored a once-timeworn lobby to grandeur and now its rambling upstairs corridors are once again worthy of passage by the smart traveler. The first class railway lounge is now Réunion, a dusky cocktail bar overlooking Victoria Station, and the side passageway to the trains is still open to guests, although the lavish front door feels more dramatic. While the common spaces are bombastically Victorian, the high-ceilinged rooms strike a modern tone. There's nothing dowdy about those: striped fabrics, metal- and earth-toned veloured upholsteries, air conditioning and Bose MP3 stations, and free Wi-Fi. Windows are well-sealed against the fright of noise outside in a rapidly developing area, giving your private quarters a hushed air. Some rooms are on the small side, given that the place still uses the bones of the 1862 original and 1910 extention, but they're nice enough for that to be overlooked. For more space, simply upgrade to an Executive. The quieter rooms look out over the shed of Victoria Station; a few even look down toward the Royal Mews. And the staff is attentive without being snooty.
The convenience of the location is excellent. Practically beneath your feet run three of the most important Tube lines and some of the most important above-ground trains (to Gatwick, to Brighton), and Victoria is also a nexus for bus service both within the city and for trips across the country.
When it was run by a different company, this property was a bit of a wreck, and that lingering reputation works in your favor: Now that it's restored and lovely again but people haven't caught on, you're likely to find space at what's truly a four-star, historic hotel cut from a bygone mold.
- Jason Cochran