Do Not Disturb by Michael Matthews
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When There's a Shine on Your Shoes ...
May 16, 2013 -- This column not only dispenses advice on how to find a great hotel, it also offers a musical interlude. Just bear with me for a few hundred words.
My wife and I just returned from London and it was while alighting from a taxi in the courtyard of Taj Hotels' 51 Buckingham Gate that the lightbulb went off. The doorman of this fabulous property opened the door, I looked down and Behold! There was a pair of shoes with a shine that would have shamed the guards at the palace up the street.
I then remembered that I noticed similarly perfect, shined shoes on the feet of doormen at other great properties, including The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Carlyle in New York and The Langham, just a few miles across town from 51 Buck. On the other hand, I distinctly remember the scuffed, dirty shoes of the doorman at what I've called the world's most disappointing five-star hotel, The Goring in London.
Is there a correlation between the state of the doorman's shoes on your upcoming stay and your satisfaction with the hotel? I'd venture to guess there is. Fred Astaire certainly believed that a shine on your shoes was important. He built a classic dance routine around the concept in The Band Wagon, his classic 1953 film. And who am I to argue with the world's greatest song-and-dance man?
As I've written many times, a hotel general manager's greatest asset is a great pair of eyes. If he is so blind that he can't see his doorman's shoes aren't shined, then I think we can safely assume that the rest of his hotel is in a similar state. I'd suggest that if you confront a doorman with shoes that don't hit the Astaire-Matthews Standard, hail a cab and head elsewhere.
Now back to 51 Buckingham Gate, located a stone's throw from the Palace of the same name. It not only offers guests impeccable service, but also what must be the largest accommodations in London, a city not known for having large bedrooms.
In our case, the extremely affable Raymond Bickson, chief executive of Taj Hotels, asked 51 Buck's new general manager, Digvijay Singh, to upgrade us to Room 1152. Room 1152 is also known as the Cinema Suite and all I can say is, "Wow!" Or maybe I should say that it's the kind of suite that Astaire wouldn't mind dancing around in perfectly shined shoes.
The Cinema Suite covers more than 1,800 square feet and offers two bedrooms; 2.5 bathrooms; study; sitting room with an 85-inch 3-D television; a dining room that seats eight; and a huge kitchen equipped with exquisite appliances, including a washer and dryer. The kitchen was stocked with eggs, butter, orange juice, milk and an enormous basket from Whole Foods that contained everything from coffee to marmalade. And an ever-available butler keeps the crystal sparkling, our clothes pressed--and our shoes shined.
The Cinema Suite was created by one of India's foremost interior designers and it is decorated in what can only be called Bollywood style. The walls are covered with pictures and posters of Bollywood stars and famous Bollywood movies. There are also 81 mirrors (that's not a typo) and one climbs steps to get into bed. Neither my lovely wife nor I have ever been in anything like it in our lives and, trust me, I've stayed in some pretty amazing suites in my time.
The Cinema Suite is nothing short of spectacular, but it's not the only notable accommodation at 51 Buckingham Gate. The equally large Jaguar Suite was overseen by the luxury car firm's design director. (Both Jaguar and Taj Hotel are part of the Tata Group, India's most important company.) Larger still are 51 Buck's two signature accommodations, the Presidential Residence and Suite and the two-level Prime Minister's Residence. The entrance to that 5-bedroom/5-living room spread is a door that emulates the entry to No. 10 Downing Street.
Spread out over a series of low-rise buildings that surround a private, gated courtyard with a lovely fountain, the 5-star 51 Buckingham Gate offers a total of 86 suites. They are all large and attractively decorated. The hotel itself is elegant, private and perfectly situated. There's nothing else quite like it in all of London.
Dining options? There are several at 51 Buckingham Gate and its sister property, the four-star St. James Court, which is also run by Taj. But the star attraction is Quilon, a Michelin-starred dining room that focuses on Southwest coastal Indian cuisine. We had a fabulous dinner there one night.
Do try 51 Buckingham Gate on your next visit to London. You may not get the Cinema Suite, of course, but I guarantee that you won't be disappointed.
Incidentally, we walked by the Dorchester, Claridge's, The Lanesborough and some other five-star London hotels during our stay. We also visited The Ritz, which was recently downgraded to four stars, and I noticed that the doorman's shoes were not polished to a high gloss.
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