archivelogo
 Do Not Disturb

michael TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE,
THAT IS THE QUESTION


By Michael Matthews

September 9, 2004 -- This is a hotel story of a blind man and a sighted man.

My fiancée and I have just returned from ten wonderful days in England. An uneventful British Airways flight to Gatwick (But why can't you use miles to upgrade if you purchase an excursion ticket?), an Avis rental car and a 2-hour drive to the Wiltshire market town of Warminster, which is equidistant from Salisbury and Bath, two of the country's most beautiful Cathedral cities. It's a glorious area where the villages and pubs are sans tourists and you can visit Stonehenge and Stourhead, which the National Trust rates as the best garden in the United Kingdom.

The weather was sublime and even the English cricket team was on a winning streak.

We stayed at the ivy-covered Bishopstrow House, an English country home built in the 19th century. Bishopstrow has wonderful grounds, a trout stream and croquet and tennis lawns. The accommodations are large, the bathrooms are good, there are lovely private drawing rooms and there's even a private bar for guest use only. There is also a spa and indoor swimming pool. The hotel is also a superb starting point for walks on Salisbury Plain.

Sounds idyllic. But, wait, Bishopstrow House was about the dirtiest hotel I've ever stayed in. Candy wrappers in the car park. Coke cans on the riverbank. There was dust and dirt everywhere: under the bed, above the picture frames, between the banisters. There were water-glass stains on the furniture, the carpets were worn through and the taps and toilets were dirty. Simply put, Bishopstrow House was a mess.

Upon checkout, the general manager, a young man, asked me if we'd enjoyed our stay. I honestly replied that we had--except for the dirt. He questioned me. So I said, "May I show you?", which I duly did.

The young general manager's response? "That's housekeeping's job."

"No," I replied, "it's yours. And unless you are blind you can see that this is the filthiest place for miles around."

The young general manager shrugged and bid us farewell.

To be honest, I can understand worn and frayed furnishings. It's sort of British and genteel. But dirt? That I can't take. There is no excuse unless the general manager is blind. And the young general manager of Bishopstrow House is obviously blind.

And so to London, The Landmark hotel and five nights of total luxury. Fantastic service, superb food and a well mannered and efficient staff, all overseen by a truly sighted man.

Previously a 19th Century office building that was converted into a hotel by the old Regent International company, the property was later sold and rechristened The Landmark. It's not in the greatest location--on Marylebone Road, far from The City and London's trendiest neighborhoods--but what it may lack in that department is made up ten times over by the facilities and service. The Landmark has a wonderful and eventful lobby, a pub in the basement, an unobtrusive front desk and a miraculous concierge. Accommodations are perfect: firm mattresses, functioning working areas, all the electronic gadgetry you would ever need and magnificent bathrooms with tubs you can play in and separate showers you can cavort in.

But what makes The Landmark a great hotel and one of London's finest? Quite simply, it's the staff. They are trained to perfection, they're all young and good-looking and they are always smiling and alert and thoughtful beyond the norm. And they are all groomed and uniformed to make a Guardsman at Buckingham Palace blush: Shoes that shine, trousers that actually fit, haircuts perfect and not a pimple in sight.

An example of the staff's extraordinary commitment to service was shown when my friend and I broke from a meeting and, being smokers, went to the lobby, sat down on a comfortable leather sofa and lit up. Before you could say "Caramba!"--or whatever they say in England these days--a waiter appeared from nowhere with two ashtrays, two packets of matches and two glasses of iced water. They don't do that at Claridge's.

The Landmark is a damned good hotel and you are hearing that from an old guy who has had 45 years in the lodging business. It is run by a sighted man named Francis Greene. He has a great pair of eyes. Not only does he see every detail, he also instructs his staff by a mere eye movement and a slight directional nod of his head. I had to ask him where his staff came from, and he told me, very honestly, that many of them were from a local theatrical college earning their way through school. All I can say is let that college turn out fewer Sir Laurence Oliviers and more hoteliers.

So, Francis, my fiancée and I raise a glass to you. You've got a hell of a hotel. And you know what? You were less expensive than the blind man's pub in rural Wiltshire.

If you're going to London, The Landmark can be booked through Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Or call Francis directly and say, "Michael sent me!"

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.