London Mayfair: The five-star neighbourhood rich with history

The Antony Gormley Suite at the Beaumont Hotel. Credit: Stephen White

This posh London district is within easy reach of London’s most famous shops and iconic attractions, and you’ll fit right in with a stay at The Beaumont

Mayfair is one of London’s most salubrious neighbourhoods – its status has long been confirmed by holding the most expensive property square on a Monopoly board.

Together with neighbouring St James’s, it covers an area of around one square mile and is home to some of the grandest properties in London, and over the years it has attracted some of the capital’s wealthiest and most powerful people.

Kings and queens have been born in Mayfair since St James’s Palace was built in the 1530s on the orders of King Henry VIII, and by the time the Stuart dynasty was restored to the throne in 1660, it had become a hotbed of scandal, prosperity, and fashion, among the highest echelons of society.

From the late 17th century to the late 18th century Mayfair – which takes its name from the annual ‘May fair’ that took place in Shepherd Market – was gradually developed, largely by the Grosvenor family, who became the Dukes of Westminster.

It’s no coincidence that the Bridgerton family home is set in Grosvenor Square in the popular Regency romance stories (though in the TV series, Bath’s Royal Crescent stood in for the London address) and the neighbourhood has retained its excellent reputation for centuries. Her Majesty The Queen was born on Bruton Street, just off Berkeley Square, and today Mayfair is still one of the most affluent areas to live in.

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The Beaumont Hotel. Credit: Nick Ingram

A large part of Mayfair’s appeal is its proximity to some of the capital’s most refined streets, best shops, and historic landmarks, while still retaining an unhurried, sophisticated air, which makes it a very appealing place for visitors to base themselves.

Tucked away on Brown Hart Gardens, just south of Oxford Street, The Beaumont, a five-star hotel brimming with Art Deco elegance, is an exemplary place to stay, with the hushed atmosphere within at odds with its central London location.

Though the building has been here since the early 20th century, it hasn’t always been a hotel – in fact for a long time it was a car park (albeit a rather dashing one).

It’s hard to imagine this former guise as you sit inside the sophisticated Gatsby’s Room, feasting on an afternoon tea of finger sandwiches (presented in the most unpretentious of ways – other afternoon tea providers should take note) with a generous choice of freshly baked scones and sweet cakes. It’s also hard to believe that the bustle of one of London’s busiest streets is just moments away.

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Afternoon Tea in Gatsby’s Room. Credit: ZAC and ZAC

And yet, if you’d like to admire Selfridge’s famous window displays, or shop amid its hallowed halls, Oxford Street’s legendary department store is just a short stroll from the hotel doors, as are Bond Street’s upmarket shops.

Head a block south and you’ll be in Grosvenor Square, which for a long time served as the centre of American presence in London. During the Second World War, it was at No.20 Grosvenor Square that American General Dwight D Eisenhower established his London military headquarters.

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The Roosevelt Memorial in Grosvenor Square

No. 1. Grosvenor Square was used by the US embassy between 1938 and the 1960s (and later served as the Canadian High Commission until 2014 – the US Embassy had moved into a modernist building at no.24 in 1960, where it remained until just a few years ago) and statues of Eisenhower, wartime US president Franklin D Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, remember this American connection.

Further south of The Beaumont is Buckingham Palace – for a long time Queen Elizabeth II’s office and now the London office for His Majesty King Charles III, and a must for any visit to London (just a 25-minute walk from the hotel).

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Band performing during The Changing of the Guard ceremony taking place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Credit: britainonview/Pawel Libera

March Arch – that most iconic of landmarks – is a mere 10 minutes’ walk west of the hotel, and this of course stands on the edge of Hyde Park.

Take a moment or two to listen to the people at Speaker’s Corner by the entrance to Hyde Park – as they exercise their right to free speech, a tradition going back to Victorian times.

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Hyde Park

Back at the hotel, as you approach The Beaumont’s elegant façade, one can almost imagine you are a character in a glamorous 1930s drama – we say almost, as jutting out from the far left of the building is an abstract sculpture that is very definitely of the 21st century.

This is part of the Antony Gormley Suite, ROOM, designed by the British artist to create a room without a view where guests can withdraw fully from the outside world, which comes with a wood-panelled bedroom, marble bathroom, and lounge. The other extremely grand sets of rooms available to guests are the Roosevelt Suite, which reflects the transatlantic glamour of the 1920s and 1930s, and The Terrace Suite, which comes with a private outdoor terrace and most certainly does have a view.

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The exterior of the Antony Gormley Suite. Credit: Stephen White

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to these suites, then worry not, each of the rooms in The Beaumont is well-appointed and they all come decorated in an understated Art Deco style that immediately transports you back to this era of good taste.

The beds are large and comfortable with crisp linen and plump pillows and bedrooms come with luxurious marble bathrooms with underfloor heating and large rainfall showers.

Walls are adorned with original paintings, prints, and sketches, which hark back to a different time, while well-thought-out reading material can be found by the bedside, together with a pack of cards, which come with their own rule book, so there can be no excuses about not knowing any games.

The best place for a game of cards after dinner in the hotel’s smart Colony Grill, is the Magritte Bar, which pays homage to the American bars that were such a hit in London and Paris in the 1920s. This intimate, decadent bar, with its low-lighting and walnut-panelled walls, takes its name from the large Magritte painting that hangs behind the bar, and serves up a delectable choice of bourbons, cocktails, and bar snacks.

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The Magritte Bar

It’s the kind of bar for which Mayfair is known – discreet and elegant – and yet somewhere where the nearby American residents of Grosvenor Square would have felt very at home.

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