With its new hotel at Marble Arch, Hard Rock Cafe International brings it back to where it all began: London. The company now has 186 cafes, 29 hotels and 12 casinos worldwide, but it was started — by two Americans — with a small burger-serving diner in the city’s Mayfair district in 1971. You might think the idea is tired, but on a Saturday night stay in its first London hotel, the party is still going strong.
Take the large open-concept lobby and restaurant area, where two bars and a stage welcome guests with brightly colored furniture, friendly staff and nonstop tunes. Homage to rock ’n’ roll is found in details large and small, starting above the check-in desk, where hundreds of drumsticks hang from the ceiling, with electric lights at their tips. Rock memorabilia, including instruments, costumes and other clothing, adorn the walls, and a Hard Rock merch shop is just across the lobby.
If the party stayed on the ground floor, this would be a rave review. Alas, the hotel, particularly its housekeeping arm, seemed to focus only on the fun, not the functionality.
The 900-room hotel, operated by GLH Hotels Management, is situated in a stately building on a corner of busy Oxford Street. Its Central London location is a less-than-one-minute walk from the Marble Arch tube stop, and just across the street from Hyde Park and its 350 acres of green. With the plethora of hotels in the vicinity, be advised you won’t be the only tourist in the area.
I arrived at 2 p.m., one hour before check-in, and was told, absolutely yes, I could be upgraded to accommodate the last-minute arrival of a friend. Housekeeping would convert the king bed with two single mattresses, within 15 to 20 minutes. Would I mind waiting, or perhaps come back in a short while?
Eight hours later, we still didn’t have those mattresses. While my friend Fiona and I waited for housekeeping, me struggling with jet lag, we took in all that was good and not so good with the room. It was immaculate and with double-paned windows overlooking the park and Oxford Street, thankfully quiet. Embroidered guitars decorated the duvet cover, with red and blue throw pillows, one emblazoned with the word “London.” Amy Winehouse looked down at us cheekily from a drawing hung from one wall.
We were told “everything you want or need” could be had by dialing Star Service, the in-room hospitality number. Unfortunately, no one picked up any of my multiple calls — first for the mattress, then to get a free Crosley turntable as a distraction, then simply for a sanity-saving drink (there was no minibar to be found, only the menu). I finally gave up and joined another queue in the lobby to complain.
“At least we have nice, clean mattresses!” Fiona pointed out an hour later, after housekeeping finally arrived.
The music — particularly the guitar — theme continued in the bathroom, where a good-sized bathtub was shaped like one. The staff kindly hung a sign suggesting guests use a mat to avoid slipping, and I would have, if I could have found the mat. (It must have been with the minibar.) Heated bathroom mirrors were a nice touch, and the bathroom was spotlessly clean.
We had headed to the lobby to hear the music and experience the bar scene. By ordering a Mexican drink at an American hotel in the English capital, perhaps I have only myself to blame: My on-the-rocks margarita arrived in a martini glass, without ice. It did have a nice salt rim. Fiona turned her nose up at the nachos, but she’s British. They were delicious.
The breakfast buffet is available at additional cost. Offered daily underneath the stage of the Hard Rock Cafe, it deserves a mention. After a short wait in line, we had everything we needed to make ourselves an English, American, continental or even Middle Eastern breakfast, or multiple combinations thereof.
Yes, we struck out with the turntable (and a Fender guitar was another in-room option lost to the lack of housekeeping), but the evening’s free music show made up for it. Every night on the Hard Rock stage, a musical act puts on two performances, and we had the chance to hear a Scottish band called Delphi. It was an incredibly pleasant evening, after a long day of travel, to be listening to great live music while catching up with a wonderful old friend.
The bottom line
When I first walked through the automatic doors into the lobby, Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” blasted through the speakers. The song encapsulated my stay. The Hard Rock Hotel is rocking, the housekeeping was not. Let’s hope the service improves and the party can keep going.
Hard Rock Hotel London: 1 Great Cumberland Place, +44 20 3912 8621; hrhlondon.com. A deluxe double room starts at 259 pounds (about $320).