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The Savoy London

    The Savoy London
 in LondonHistory: 
    The Savoy London
 in London


Back in 1246, a stretch of land between the Strand and the Thames was presented by King Henry III to Peter, Count of Savoy, uncle and consort to the king’s wife. Peter built his Savoy Palace on the river, and the name has been associated with the place ever since.

Over 600 years later, impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte chose the location for a new theatre to stage the famous operettas written by his friends, Gilbert and Sullivan. He decided to call his new building the Savoy Theatre, and the productions were known henceforth as the Savoy Operas. D’Oyly Carte was so impressed with his visits to the new American hotels that he decided to build his own hotel back in London. The Savoy designed by Thomas Edward Colcutt took five years to build and opened on August 6, 1889.

As the first true luxury hotel in London, The Savoy set a new standard for technology, comfort, and luxury. First to be lit by electricity, The Savoy was also the first to feature electric lifts, known as ascending rooms. Guestrooms were connected by speaking tubes to various parts of the hotel, including the valet, maid, and floor waiter. The Savoy later became the first hotel to provide most of its rooms with private bathrs en suite, and the Savoy bath became famous for its cascading shower and quick filling bathtub.

Innovative and persuasive, D’Oyly Carte tempted the well-known hotel manager César Ritz to join his new wonder hotel, and he brought in Auguste Escoffier, leading celebrity chef of his day, to run the kitchens. In the early years, Savoy guests included Sarah Bernhardt and Dame Nellie Melba, for whom Escoffier famously created Melba Toast when she was on a diet and Pêches Melba when she was not.

The 1900s were years of extravagance and exuberance, and The Savoy’s parties and balls became legendary. American millionaire George A. Kessler hosted a "Gondola Party" where the central courtyard was flooded to a depth of four feet and scenery erected around the walls. Costumed staff and guests recreated Venice. The two dozen guests dined in an enormous gondola. After dinner, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso sang, and a baby elephant brought in a five-foot birthday cake. By 1904 the hotel was such an enormous success that the blocks on the Strand were added offering a grand new entrance and reception area also designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt, and the American Bar and Savoy Grill moved into this new part of the hotel.

The First World War brought small privations to The Savoy, but morale was high and not even a severe shortage of bread rolls could dampen the spirits. Bombs fell close to The Savoy, but fortunately the hotel remained unscathed. Post-war years brought a determination to embrace the new and innovative. Everybody danced at The Savoy, from Fred and Adele Astaire to the entire Ballets Russes, who would return to the hotel in the late evening after their performances and continue dancing in the darkened public rooms by candlelight.

During the 1920s The Savoy embraced the Art Deco movement enthusiastically: Art Deco décor and furniture was installed in the hotel, Kaspar the Savoy’s lucky black cat was carved by designer Basil Ionides in 1927, and the iconic stainless steel Savoy sign over Savoy Court, designed by Sir Howard Robertson was installed in 1929. As for jazz, the hotel imported the best musicians from the United States to play in the famous Savoy Bands. The bands performed in the revamped Thames Foyer, where a stage and a dance-floor were permanently installed. Underneath the dance-floor was a hydraulic system, allowing it to be raised by three feet to provide a large stage for the cabaret acts.

During the Second World War, The Savoy provided a subterranean air-raid shelter for guests in what had been the Abraham Lincoln banqueting suite, but upstairs dinner and dancing continued while the bombs fell. During the Blitz, 76 consecutive nights of bombing by the Germans, the hotel was damaged when bombs fell in The Strand and on the Embankment, and the force of one blast threw bandleader Carroll Gibbons off the bandstand. While Carroll regained his composure, cabaret performer and English playwright Noel Coward came up from the audience and sat at the piano to belt out a selection of his own hit songs to great applause from the audience. Once peace was declared, the hotel set about erasing the traces of the last six years. The fabric of the building was repaired, guestrooms were redecorated, and in spite of residual rationing, The Savoy maintained its air of glamour and luxury.

From its earliest days, the stars of stage and screen have always loved The Savoy. England’s own Vivien Leigh was first introduced to her future husband Laurence Olivier in the hotel. From America came Hollywood greats such as Al Jolson, Errol Flynn, and Katharine Hepburn and from France, Josephine Baker and Coco Chanel. Princess Elizabeth was first seen with Lt. Philip Mountbatten in public at a Savoy reception, and when the Princess became the Queen a few years later, The Savoy threw quite the largest and most lavish Coronation Ball in London.

The Savoy swung into the 1960s with guests ranging from the Beatles and Bob Dylan to Louis Armstrong, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. The post-premiere party for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s film “Cleopatra” featured a pyramid-shaped dessert so spectacular that it merited description in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Investment was made in a remodelled Savoy Grill and the American Bar, and while celebrities such as Andy Warhol and entourage still came to the hotel, they now began to demand anonymity where once they had courted the press. The entire Thames Foyer and River Restaurant areas were now completely refurbished as the hotel moved towards the end of its first century; Art Deco mirrors that had originally been installed during the remodelling of 1926 were rediscovered under boards that had covered them since the late 1950s, and they made a striking feature of the new décor.

The Savoy entered its second century with the same style and enthusiasm that had characterized its first. Two years later the Savoy closed its doors, for the first time in its 118-year history, and work began on a vast refurbishment project. Everything that had been added to the beautiful Edwardian interior over the last century was removed, and the hall with its original light fittings was carefully restored to its former glory. Much of the original Savoy’s antique furnishings and fixtures were restored and retained in the Savoy. For example, in the Front Hall the original mahogany paneling was stripped back and repolished to show the natural beauty of the grain while the details of Bertram Pegram’s frieze, An Idyll of a Golden Age, shines through now that is has been painted white against a celadon background. Throughout the hotel, original features such as moldings, fixtures, and fittings were retained and incorporated into the design, and over 400 pieces of furniture were restored and reinstalled in The Savoy.

The Savoy reopened on October 10, 2010, at 10.10 a.m. A few weeks later the official party to mark the opening of the hotel was hosted by HRH Prince Alwaleed, and attended by HRH The Prince of Wales, who unveiled a plaque to commemorate the occasion.

The Savoy London, a charter member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2011, dates back to 1889.


International Numbers

Austria 08000706176
Belgium 080081830
France 805542721
Germany 8007241217
Ireland 1800995320
Italy 800979444
Netherlands 08000200956
Norway 80054304
Spain 900814719
Switzerland 0800001798
UK 8009179622
Book by Phone: +1 866 670 3764
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