The Savoy, set to reopen on 10 October 2010, has become part and parcel of the history of London and indeed of the country. The name runs back to 1246, when an area of land between the Strand and the Thames was presented to Peter, Count of Savoy, by Henry III. Peter built his Savoy Palace on the river, and the name has been used for the location ever since. In 1881, Richard D'Oyly Carte opened the Savoy Theatre specifically for light operas written by Gilbert and Sullivan, and in 1889, the Savoy hotel was built alongside.
D'Oyly Carte had travelled extensively, and so he incorporated the avant-garde hotel technology that he had seen in the United States. The Savoy was the first real luxury hotel in London, the first to be lit by electricity, and the first to have "ascending rooms" - lifts. Later, it was the first hotel to have private bathrooms en suite.
Hotel manager César Ritz joined the hotel, and he in turn appointed famous chef August Escoffier. A number of recipes created for hotel guests became part of everyday language, such as Peach Melba, invented for Australian soprano Helen Porter Mitchell who sang using the pseudonym Nellie Melba. She was beset by weight problems and so chef Escoffier also invented Melba Toast (very thin, dry toast) for when she was on a diet. Artists Whistler and Monet painted the Thames from the Savoy's windows. The Prince of Wales and his retinue were frequent visitors, and the American Bar and Savoy Grill became firm favourites for high society.
The Savoy took to the jazz age – the Thirties – like a duck to water. The Art Deco stainless steel sign over Savoy Court was installed in 1929, and since then it has been an unmistakable motif for the hotel and its luxury ambience. Jazz bands from the States played regularly on the Savoy's stage, attracting VIPs and cinema stars such as Al Jolson, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel and Winston Churchill, the latter often lunching with the entire cabinet during World War II. Many rich Americans journeyed regularly to Europe to escape the throes of the Prohibition, and they were joined by Harry Craddock, a United States citizen who joined the American Bar at the Savoy in 1920. Craddock invented the "Corpse Reviver #2" and possibly the White Lady, and he popularized the Dry Martini. He wrote the Savoy Cocktail Book, first published in 1930, and it is still in print today, featuring 750 of Harry's most popular recipes.
For the record, Harry's Corpse Reviver #2 is made of gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, fresh lemon juice, and a dash of asbsinthe, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, garnished with a maraschino cherry. Harry advised, "four of these taken in straight succession will unrevive the corpse again..."
Society remained faithful to the Savoy after the Second War. Princess Elizabeth's and Philip Mountbatten's first public appearance together was at a Savoy reception, and in the 1950s and 60s, guests included Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and many others.
The new millennium, ushered in by a fantastic Savoy party, brought with it the need for refurbishment, and in December 2007, operations began in view of the re-launch of the Savoy in October 2010. There is no doubt that society has changed, and London itself has changed, and so the management company operating the Savoy, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, dedicated careful thought to the hotel's geographical and functional positioning. The incredible developments seen by the city have galvanized an already prestigious area of the city, close to Covent Garden and its opera house, Mayfair and its boutiques, West End theatreland, the City with its business, and, further down the river, Canary Wharf. The Hotel will build on its reputation, enhancing its cherished characteristics while adding new features.
The restoration programme represents an investment of over £100 million, and it has involved the entire building, with all public areas and guest rooms. It was masterminded by Pierre-Yves Rochon, whose previous work on luxury hotels includes the George V in Paris and Hotel Hermitage in Monaco. The design for the Savoy preserves the original Edwardian style of the building, and the Art Deco features added in the 1920s and 30s. The Thames Foyer, in the original Edwardian style, becomes the heart of life in the hotel, with a new winter garden under the glass cupola. A new addition is the Beaufort Bar, specializing in champagne. Savoy Tea serves classic English teas with delectable patisserie.
The River Restaurant will be reopening with its superb views over the Thames, under the leadership of chef Ryan Murphy, previously head chef at Ronnums Herrgard Hotel in Sweden. Murphy will devise a modern French menu, and the restaurant, in an Art Deco setting, will serve lunch and dinner.
The Savoy Grill will remain a firm favourite, with Stuard Gillies as chef patron and Andy Cook as head chef. Their ambition is to return to the Savoy Grill's origins, with an extensive and highly theatrical menu enhanced by the unique atmosphere of the room. One of the more contemporary features will probably include the "power lunches" for which brevity becomes an important factor. The American Bar will continue to be a glittering hub for society and for anyone who wants to savour the unique style and luxury of a veritable institution.
The most exclusive parts of the hotel have been equally revamped. The Lancaster Room, a sumptuous location for events, has been restored, and the new two-bedroom Royal Suite will be a splendid accommodation, with a total of eight rooms all offering the famous river views.
Importantly, the hotel's inimitable characteristics have not been affected. Savoy Court will remain the only street in Britain where vehicles have to drive on the right. This rule was introduced in about 1930, so that vehicles queuing to drop people at the theatre would not block access to the entrance of the Savoy Hotel. Last but not least, there is Kaspar the Cat. If you book a table for thirteen at the Savoy Grill, you will discover that the table is set for another guest, with that place taken by Kaspar, a three-foot high cat sculpted in the 1920s by Basil Ionides. Kaspar was introduced as a result of an unfortunate incident that occurred in 1898, when a South African guest, Woolf Joel, threw a dinner party at the Savoy. Only twelve guests were able to attend, and so there were thirteen at the table. He ignored the superstition that tragedy would befall the first guest to rise from a table of thirteen, and the dinner went on. After Woolf returned to Johannesburg, he was shot and killed.
From then on, the hotel ensured that there would be no more groups of thirteen by providing a staff member to accompany such a party, until Kaspar was created in lieu. When a group of RAF officers playfully abducted Kaspar, it was Winston Churchill himself who ensured the cat's safe return.
See also: Luxos online hotel booking system