|Hotel facts and statistics|
|Location||London, United Kingdom|
|Opening date||6 August 1889|
|Developer||Richard D'Oyly Carte|
|Architect||Thomas Edward Collcutt|
|Management||Fairmont Hotels and Resorts|
|Owner||Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal|
|No. of rooms||263|
The Savoy Hotel is a five-star hotel located on the Strand, in the City of Westminster in central London. Built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, the hotel opened on 6 August 1889 and was the first in the Savoy group of hotels and restaurants owned by Carte's family for over a century. The hotel is now managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. It has been called "London's most famous hotel" and remains one of London's most prestigious and opulent hotels, with 263 rooms and panoramic views of the River Thames across Savoy Place and the Victoria Embankment, part of the Thames Embankment.
The hotel has been closed since December 2007 for extensive renovations and is expected to reopen in 2010. The owners announced a budget of more than £100 million for the renovations, but structural problems have delayed construction, and the total cost could be double that amount.
The House of Savoy was the ruling family of Savoy, descended from Humbert I, Count of Sabaudia (or "Maurienne"), who became count in 1032. The name Sabaudia evolved into "Savoy" (or "Savoie"). Count Peter (or Piers or Piero) of Savoy (d. 1268) was the maternal uncle of Eleanor of Provence, queen-consort of Henry III of England, and came with her to London.
King Henry made Peter Earl of Richmond and, in 1246, gave him the land between The Strand and the Thames where Peter built the Savoy Palace in 1263. On Peter's death, the Savoy was given to Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster, by his mother, Queen Eleanor. Edmund's great-granddaughter, Blanche, inherited the site. Her husband, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, built a magnificent palace that was burned down by Wat Tyler's followers in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. King Richard II was still a child, and his uncle John of Gaunt was the power behind the throne and so a main target of the rebels.
In about 1505, Henry VII planned a great hospital for "pouer, nedie people", leaving money and instructions for it in his will. The hospital was built in the palace ruins and licensed in 1512. Drawings show that it was a magnificent building, with a dormitory, dining hall and three chapels. Henry VII's hospital lasted for two centuries but suffered from poor management. The sixteenth-century historian Stow noted that the hospital was being misused by "loiterers, vagabonds and strumpets". In 1702, the hospital was dissolved, and the hospital buildings were used for other purposes. Part of the old palace was used for a military prison in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the old hospital buildings were demolished and new buildings erected.
In 1864, a fire burned everything except the stone walls and the Savoy Chapel, and the property sat empty until Richard D'Oyly Carte bought it in 1880 to build the Savoy Theatre specifically for the production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, of which he was the producer.
Opened in 1889, the hotel was designed by architect Thomas Edward Collcutt, who also designed the Wigmore Hall. Carte chose the name "Savoy" to memorialize the history of the property. His investors in the venture were, in addition to relatives, Carl Rosa, George Grossmith, Francois Cellier, George Edwardes, Augustus Harris and Fanny Ronalds. His friend, the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, was a shareholder and sat on the Board of Directors.
The hotel was built on a plot of land, next to the Savoy Theatre, that Carte originally purchased to house an electrical generator for the theatre (built in 1881), which was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. The construction of the hotel took five years and was financed by the profits from the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership, particularly from producing The Mikado. It was the first hotel lit by electric lights and the first with electric elevators. Other innovations included private, ensuite bathrooms in the majority of its rooms, lavishly appointed in marble; constant hot and cold running water in each room, glazed brickwork designed to prevent London's smoke-laden air from spoiling the external walls, and its own Artesian well.
In 1890, Carte hired the hotel's first famous manager, César Ritz, who later became the founder of The Ritz Hotel. Ritz brought in his partners, chef Auguste Escoffier, and maître d'hôtel Louis Echenard. Ritz put together what he described as "a little army of hotel men for the conquest of London", and Escoffier recruited French cooks and reorganised the kitchens. The Savoy under Ritz and his partners was an immediate success, attracting a distinguished and moneyed clientèle, headed by the Prince of Wales. Aristocratic women, hitherto unaccustomed to dine in public, were now "seen in full regalia in the Savoy dining and supper rooms". The hotel was such a financial success that Richard D'Oyly Carte bought other hotels.
In 1897, Ritz and his partners were dismissed from the Savoy. Ritz and Echenard were implicated in the disappearance of over £3400 (£290,000 as of 2010), of wine and spirits, and Escoffier had been receiving gifts from the Savoy's suppliers. The Savoy group purchased Simpson's-in-the-Strand in 1898. The next year, Carte chose M. Joseph, proprietor of the Marivaux Restaurant in Paris, as his next maître d'hôtel and in 1900 hired George Reeves-Smith as the next managing director of the Savoy hotel group. Reeves-Smith served in this capacity until 1941. The Cartes expanded the hotel in 1903–04, building new east and west wings and moving the main entrance to Savoy Court on the Strand.
Richard's son, Rupert D'Oyly Carte, became chairman of the Savoy hotel group in 1903 and, after the death of his stepmother Helen Carte in 1913, the controlling stockholder. In 1919, he sold the Grand Hotel, Rome, which his father had acquired in 1896. In the 1920s he ensured that the Savoy continued to attract a fashionable clientèle by a continuous programme of modernisation and the introduction of dancing in the large restaurants. It also became the first hotel with air conditioning, steam-heating and soundproofed windows in the rooms, 24-hour room service and telephones in every bathroom. It also manufactured its own mattresses The Savoy Orpheans and the Savoy Havana Band were described as "probably the best-known bands in Europe" and broadcast reguarly from the hotel. Carte engaged Richard Collet to run the cabaret at the Savoy, which opened in April 1929. Until the 1930s, the Savoy group had not thought it necessary to advertise, but Carte and Reeves-Smith changed their approach. "We are endeavouring by intensive propaganda work to get more customers; this work is going on in the U.S.A., in Canada, in the Argentine and in Europe."
In 1938 Hugh Wontner joined the Savoy hotel group as Reeves-Smith's assistant, and he became managing director in 1941. During World War II, Wontner and his staff had to cope with bomb damage, food rationing, manpower shortage, and a serious decline in the number of foreign visitors. After the U.S. entered the war, business picked up as the Savoy Hotel became a favourite of American officers, diplomats, journalists and others. The hotel became a meeting place for war leaders: Winston Churchill often took his cabinet to lunch at the hotel, Lord Mountbatten, Charles de Gaulle, Jan Masaryk and General Wavell were among the regular Grill Room diners, and the hotel's air-raid shelters were "the smartest in London". Wontner co-operated fully with the government's wartime restrictions, helping to draw up an order imposing a five shilling limit on the price of a restaurant meal.
After WWII, the Savoy Group experienced a strike of its employees in support of a waiter dismissed from the hotel. The matter was judged so serious that the government set up a court of inquiry. Nevertheless, the hotel also continued to attract celebrities. Princess Elizabeth was first seen in public with Prince Philip at a Savoy reception. In 1946, Wotner set up "The Savoy Management Scheme", a school to train hoteliers, that was maintained for half a century. The last major appointments of Rupert D'Oyly Carte's chairmanship were Wyllie Adolf Hofflin, general manager from 1941 to 1960, and August Laplanche, head chef from 1946 to 1965. When Carte died in 1948, his daughter Bridget did not wish to become chairman, accepting instead the vice-chairman position, and the Savoy board elected Wontner, the first person to combine the roles of chairman and managing director since the Savoy's founder, Richard D'Oyly Carte. Wontner remained managing director until 1979, chairman until 1984 and was president thereafter until 1992.
To mark Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on 2 June 1953, the hotel hosted the Savoy Coronation Ball, attended by 1,400 people, including Hollywood stars, royalty and other notables, who paid 12 guineas (£262 as of 2010), each. Sixteen Yeomen Warders from the Tower of London lined the entrance staircase. The interior of the Savoy was decked in hundreds of yards of dove-grey material and heraldic banners in scarlet and blue and yellow. The design was supervised by Bridget D'Oyly Carte, whose fellow organisers included Cecil Beaton and Ninette de Valois. The cabaret was under the direction of Laurence Olivier, Noël Coward and John Mills.
Under Wontner's leadership, the Savoy appointed its first British head chef, Silvino Trompetto, who was maître-chef from 1965 to 1980. Giles Shepard (1937–2006), succeeded Wontner as managing director from 1979 to 1994 and helped to defend the Savoy against Charles Forte's attempt to take control of the Board in the 1980s (although Forte gained a majority of the shares). He also introduced competitive salaries for the staff, increased international marketing of the hotel and led the Savoy's centenary celebrations. The Savoy continued to be a popular meeting place. In 2009, The National reported, "Some hacks were referred to as 'Savoy correspondents' because their job was to park themselves in the lobby and see who came and went. Le tout London was there it seemed, from film stars to businessmen to politicians, all staying or being entertained at the grand old fun palace on the Strand."
Bridget D'Oyly Carte died childless in 1985, bringing an end to her family line. In 1998, American private equity house Blackstone Group purchased the Savoy hotel group. They sold it in 2004 to Quinlan Private, who sold the Savoy Hotel and Simpson's-in-the-Strand eight months later, for an estimated £250 million, to Al-Waleed bin Talal to be managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada. Quinlan's group retained the rest of the hotels under the name Maybourne Hotel Group.
In December 2007, the hotel was closed to undergo a refit to a design by Pierre Yves Rochon, Reardon Smith and Buro Happold, the cost of which was budgeted to exceed £100 million. The projected reopening date has been extended to 2010, as structural and systems problems have delayed construction and led to increased costs increasing the estimated total cost to as much as £200 million. The new design features a Thames foyer with a winter garden gazebo under a glass cupola with natural light, which will be the venue for late-night dining and the hotel's famous afternoon tea. The Beaufort Bar and the River Restaurant will both be decorated in the art deco style. The rooms will be modernised technologically but decorated in period styles that will be harmonised with the adjacent hallways, and they will retain the built-in wardrobes and bedroom cabinets. The room decor will be Edwardian on the Thames river side and art deco on the Strand side. Butler service will return to the hotel, and Gordon Ramsay will preside over the Savoy Grill.
Numerous famous guests have stayed at the hotel. Claude Monet and James Whistler both stayed at the hotel and painted views, from their rooms, of the River Thames. The Savoy featured prominently in guest Oscar Wilde's trial for gross indecency. Bob Dylan stayed in the hotel in 1965 and filmed the video clip Subterranean Homesick Blues in an adjacent alley. The future King Edward VII, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Lillie Langtry, Charlie Chaplin, Ivor Novello, Harry Truman, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh (the last two met at the hotel), Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Richard Harris (such a regular that a suite was named for him), Humphrey Bogart, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, The Beatles, U2, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the celebrities who stayed there.
The Savoy Restaurant (sometimes referred to as the Savoy Grill) has long been famous for its inventive chefs, beginning in 1890 with celebrity chef Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier created many famous dishes at the Savoy. In 1893 he invented the pêche Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba, and in 1897, Melba toast. Other Escoffier creations were bombe Néro (a flaming ice), fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet), baisers de Vierge (meringue with vanilla cream and crystallised white rose and violet petals) and suprêmes de volailles Jeannette (jellied chicken breasts with foie gras).
Under Ritz and Escoffier, evening dress had to be worn in the restaurant, and Ritz was innovative in hiring popular musicians to play background music during dinner and in printing daily menus. Even today, elegant dining at the Savoy includes formal afternoon tea with choral and other performances at Christmas time. The Savoy has a Sunday brunch including free-flow champagne, and special events, such as New Year's Eve dinner.
The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel opened in 1898 when cocktails were first introduced to London. The term American Bar comes from the 1930s. Bar owners in Europe renamed their bars "The American Bar" to designate the sale of American cocktails. The complete list of Head Barmen in chronological order starting with Ada Coleman in 1898 to the current Head Barman Salim Khoury:
In 1930, the Savoy Hotel first published its cocktail book, The Savoy Cocktail Book, with the recipes compiled by Harry Craddock of the American Bar and 'decorations' by Gilbert Rumbold. The book was then subsequently republished several times; 1952, 1965, 1985, 1996 and most recently in 1999 with some new text and a number of new cocktails added by Peter Dorelli.
Savoy Court is the only street in the United Kingdom where vehicles are required to drive on the right. This is said to date from the days of the hackney carriage when a cab driver would reach his arm out of the driver's door window to open the passenger's door (which opened backwards and had the handle at the front), without having to get out of the cab himself. Additionally, the hotel entrance's small roundabout meant that vehicles needed a turning circle of 25 ft (8 m) in order to navigate it. This is still the legally required turning circle for all London cabs.
Savoy Pier is located near the river entrance to the hotel, but is not affiliated with the hotel.