By the time I meet my Mr Smith amid the urban chaos of rush hour London we’re both weary from heat, diesel fumes, aggressive drivers and police sirens. Thankfully the healing peace of Dean Street Townhouse awaits us. Young, stylish and unobtrusively efficient staff ease us down a few gears at reception, while soothing lighting, scented candles and crystal chandeliers set the mood to maximum uplift. Walls are lined floor-to-ceiling with antiquated books and curvaceous renovated Georgian furniture, all echoing the heritage of this magnificent four-storey Palladian building. Everything also seems a total contrast with the madness of the world right outside.
To create such a sanctuary in Soho, historically London's most wild and bohemian neighbourhood, is an achievement in itself. In the 18th century, Hogarth caricatured the vices of the inhabitants of what would become the red-light district and, although it’s been cleaned up and revitalised since the sleazy swinging Sixties, there’s still something sexually charged and addictively outrageous about this part of central-as-it-comes London. There’s even a Sunset Strip club winking its eye from across the road.
A wonderful vestige of days gone by is the Townhouse’s lift. As we step inside, an intimate squeeze for three, a rough wooden floor takes us by surprise. We soon twig we’re following in the footsteps of greatness. Almost a hundred years ago an elevator would have taken members up to the hedonistic Gargoyle Club. Mr Smith assures me that the bare floorboards up there have been polished by the shuffling shoe leathers of cultural greats from Henri Matisse to Fred Astaire.
Referencing more recent pop history – my Mr Smith’s professional forte – he then links our rendezvous to the start of New Romantic movement. Peacock punks such as Boy George, Steve Strange and Spandau Ballet also started out in a venue here at number 69 Dean Street apparently, as did the famous Comedy Store. Oh, if walls could talk, what decadent tales these ones would tell.
This boutique bolt hole is an addition to the Soho House empire which is spreading fast from London to LA via Miami and Berlin. Here, 39 perfectly formed bedrooms promise various level of inner-city comfort, varying from ‘Tiny’, ideal for crash-and-burn overnighters, through to ‘Bigger’, aimed at more self-indulgent travellers and weekenders. Our Bigger room is beautifully light, surprisingly quiet, and strikes the perfect balance between original and contemporary design styles, enlisting hand-painted wallpaper, creamy wood-panelling, and a king-size bed designed for love-filled nights and deep sleeps in a soft-white sea of pillows. Vintage suitcases, elegant dressing gowns and a Roberts Radio have us feeling as though we’re straddling life’s simple luxuries past and present.
As for the charming bathing options at the Dean Street Townhouse – they are dramatically different to some I’ve known. (Believe me, there have been shockers. I recall a Jacuzzi bath that should have had Police Line Do Not Cross Tape across it as it spewed out a forensic history of all its previous occupants. A whirlpool of hair, skin and all other human-related scum it was more crime scene than home spa. The only likely connection to a cop show storyline though for this ensuite is likely to be when a director or star of a TV series makes this their abode of choice.)
Here, we not only have lashings of luxury but also the options of slow and speedy ablutions. Time-starved guests will love the chequered Italian bathroom with its mighty head-clearing, body-reviving rainforest shower. Mr Smith takes this option, aided by Bullock’s Bracing Body Wash, before heading out to meet old friends. Feeling less sociable and more sybaritic, I’m determined to wallow in such comforts, and I head for the large free-standing contemporary tub that stands centre-stage beneath the high bedroom windows.
Up to my neck in Cowshed bubbles, eating hand-made chocolates from Melt in Notting Hill, I bask in the shards of golden light peeking through the shutters wondering if this hotel reviewing lark can get any better? Honestly, you could easily stay in your room – or even just in this bath – for days and survive happily on room service’s chilled rice pudding with poached rhubarb. But in terms of bodily sustenance, everything you could ever need is out there, waiting, on Dean Street. Like sirens beckoning, I can hear the call of a fine curry at the Red Fort, a good old-fashioned English pint in the the Crown & Two Chairmen and a Bloody Mary across the road at Quo Vadis.
Then again, with Townhouse’s own bar and restaurant as lively as anywhere in the evenings we surrender eventually to the pull of its hardwood floors and vintage armchairs, a dining room peopled with smart, sophisticated and artistic characters. The mood’s relaxed but upbeat, and the fresh English food is prepared with just the right amount of French influence, allowing us to enjoy our organic wild trout or monkfish with fennel fully aware that we’re very much at the heart of London life.
We sleep that night in a bed so king-sized that we feel tempted to hit the sack next time armed with a Maglite, and then we wake to face the world, refreshed and recharged and ready to grab coffee and gorgeous pastries from the original Patisserie Valerie on nearby Old Compton Street. A pivotal location for so much, we are not sure which direction to head in first. This is the beating heart of London’s gay scene, with the shopping hubs of Oxford Street, Covent Garden and South Molton all within healthy walking distance. London’s theatreland is also a programme’s throw away on Shaftesbury Avenue, Drury Lane and Charing Cross Road. A 10-minute stroll gets us to the British Museum.
After an exhibition of Italian Renaissance drawings, what better than to return to our hip hideaway to indulge in a traditional English afternoon tea? For centuries this building has been a haven for artists from William Hogarth to Damien Hirst. Once a famous watering hole for Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, it seems only appropriate that the hotel dining room doubles up as an extraordinary gallery of modern artists including Tracy Emin, Sir Peter Blake, Matt Collishaw and Fiona Banner. There’s even a Gavin Turk en route to the loos. Among the striking, specially commissioned works is Dan Hillier’s ‘Townhouse’, a depiction of a stag-headed, skull-faced gent complete with top hat, cigar and a bottle of liquor, in the passionate clutches of a naked lady of the night. It’s the perfect incarnation of after-hours Soho. Mr Smith wonders if he maybe passed them on his way back in last night.
If Dean Street’s older, more stately, sister Babington House attracts reclusive, romantic and poetic types with its deeply rustic Somerset charms, then the Townhouse plays the youthful role of sultry Soho girl about town. A magnet for bohemians, artists and media moths keen to be fired up by the creative energies that must ooze from these historic surroundings we look forward to recommending it as the ideal base for wild nights and enlightening days. Or a stopover for discreet deals and secret liaisons, perhaps… But for me? I'll just go back to spend a whole day in the bath.