Set on the edge of Green Park in the heart of London, The Ritz is one of the world’s finest and most recognisable hotels, providing five-star luxury for over a century. It has become synonymous with opulence and an aristocratic level of hospitality. Arguably one of Britain’s most famous hotels, it opened in 1906, and entertained heads of state, royalty and celebrities for well over a century.
Designed by French architect Charles-Frédéric Mewès and Englishman Arthur Davis, the hotel was opened by Swiss-born César Ritz, who’s often referred as ‘The king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings’. A stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, The Ritz was clearly intended to be a rival for its neighbour, and César’s former employer, The Savoy. This ambitious mission was accomplished.
London’s most iconic hotel
Over its 117 history The Ritz has won the affections of innumerable high-profile guests – the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was a loyal client of César Ritz and is reputed to have said, “Where Ritz goes, I go”. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother regularly dined at The Ritz where she requested her favourite song A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square be played on the piano.
During World War II, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Dwight D. Eisenhower met for summit meetings in the Marie Antoinette Suite. The Queen Elizabeth II danced the conga through the hotel in 1945 on VE Day with her sister, Margaret, after slipping incognito into the crowds that were celebrating in central London.
In 2002, The Ritz became the first hotel to receive a Royal Warrant for its banquet and catering services. The seamless addition of William Kent House*, 150 years older than the Ritz, in 2004 added sumptuous dining/function rooms and suites and completed Ritz’s original vision of his hotel. The mural in William Kent House painted by the Chinese artist Mao Wen Biao contains the modern twist. Look closer to find it.
*The William Kent House is temporarily closed for private events, meaning the mural isn’t currently available for guests to view.
At the forefront of innovation
César Ritz has pioneered many things. For starters, the hotel had (almost unheard-of in the beginning of 20th century) en-suite bathtubs, electricity and a telephone for each room. Moreover, the Ritz was one of the first occasions in which women could be unchaperoned in polite London society. The width of each corridor at the hotel was designed to enable two ladies to walk comfortably in crinoline petticoats, side by side, while the lighting in the Rococo-style restaurant was chosen to be the right shade for a woman to look her most beautiful.
The impression when you first enter The Ritz London is like stepping into, not so much a hotel, but an aristocratic residence from a forgotten era. Pass through the famous friendly doormen (who are often are the focus of tourists’ cameras) and revolving doors and you’ll enter a world of unabashed extravagance.
If feels like the time has stopped here and you are back to 18th-century French court. The hotel has an opulently decorated cream-coloured rococo style of Louis XVI setting with sculptures, glorious frescoes, silk damask wallpaper and sparkling chandeliers, let alone 24-carat gold leaf adorning almost every surface at The Ritz.
A bastion of old-world luxury
Rooms have a lustrous palette of pinks, yellows and blues and furnished with fine fabrics, empire-style furniture. The space is decorated with antique statuettes and elegant lamps that could be easily sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
The gold-leaf ceiling motifs are still laboriously applied by hand, the bathrooms are glorious extravagances of marble and, every turn is met with the fragrance of crystal vases filled with blowsy alabaster blooms – the famous Ritz rose specially bred for the hotel in Holland. If you are in a suite the size of the accommodation will impress you even more. For instant, the bedroom in our Deluxe Suites was 860 sq-ft.
The only thing that looks out of place, and a sad reminder of modern times, is the TV. At the same time, who wouldn’t want to rewatch Notting Hill while relaxing on the museum-style sofa.
A complimentary bottle of Ritz champagne is waiting for you and by the window, there’s a lovely writing desk where you are thoughtfully provided Ritz postcards which you can send to your friends and family or even colleagues as a gentle reminder of where you are staying.
There are small touches that make Ritz stand out from other hotels. For example, the Do Not Disturb sign here is printed on a gorgeous red leather placard with a golden rope. There is no sign of a minibar or a kettle in the room. But with one phone call your battler will bring everything you need.
Speaking of requests, Ritz porters pride themselves on being able to fulfill any of them, so long as its legal. An American ambassador once asked for a helicopter to be purchased on his behalf, while another guest requested a battleship.
Behind the scenes
The staff at the Ritz – most of whom have been part of the team for decades – are fiercely proud of their job. For instance, Head Concierge Michael de Cozar has been with the hotel for 50 years, having started as a bell boy. His father worked in the hotel before him and now Michael’s own son and a grandson both work at The Ritz.
Employee’s uniform is military-precise, laundered every day from the pinnies and caps worn by the maids to the white-coated barmen. You might notice the white gloves worn under the epaulettes of some staff. The only time they are removed and worn on the hands is when a member of the Royal Family enters the hotel.
Frank Sinatra’s personal pianist
A timeless elegance pervades the hotel with The Ritz’s resident pianist in the Long Gallery. Before stepping into this role 27 years ago Ian Gomes was Frank Sinatra’s personal pianist. At the Ritz Ian has performed for Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, three American Presidents and countless celebrities. Despite being a celebrity himself he is very approachable and can play basically song in the world upon request.
Reflecting the elegant nature of the hotel’s architecture and respect to traditions unlike other hotels, The Ritz has a dress code which is highlighted in the reservation confirmation. For example, trainers and sportswear are not permitted in any of the hotel’s restaurants or bars and gentlemen are advised to wear a jacket and tie for afternoon tea in The Palm Court, the hotel’s former ballroom, and for lunch and dinner in The Ritz (a Michelin star Restaurant and Terrace).
To be honest, surrounded by such opulence as The Long Gallery or the Grand Staircase even without any rules you would instantly want to use the ultimate opportunity to dress up a little. If not in The Ritz then where?