“Mine,” insists M while collapsing onto the ornate king-sized bed in time to a drum-fill by a Britpop band playing from the large screen TV. Savagely squeezing Arthur against her, she settles into a fetal position. “My bear,” she reiterates, alleging that she’s already officially adopted Arthur and will never leave him behind. Arthur is a teddy bear, an English teddy to be precise – one that, despite protestations to the contrary, is, part of the five-star hotel’s décor. There is one Arthur to every bed in every room of The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences. As for M, there is only one of her. And it happens to come in the form of a 30-year-old classical pianist and composer – one for whom I’ve been enlisted to write lyrics. It’s in M’s company, and, now apparently, Arthur’s, that I must go to the famed Sarm Studios this weekend and work.
The teddy incident has me fixating on the other Arthurs in the hotel and all their surrogate owners. I’m besieged by random images reminiscent of Jean Genet’s The Balcony. In every room some poor Arthur is forced into an elaborate game of psychological transference, one whose correlation to the real world remains nebulous. Arthur can be kinky, romantic, decadent, nefarious, introverted, sordid or inspiring. Arthur is an alter-ego, a point of realization. He could be a mascot for every important decision ever made by residents of The Athenaeum – decisions that, unbeknown to us, may already have impacted our lives.
Part of what makes The Athenaeum special is that it is a luxury boutique establishment wherein world-renowned guests often live for months at a time. Margaret Thatcher lived at The Athenaeum for close to a year. Was her teddy a Tory whose jar of honey had to be guarded from Trade Unions? And what of Marlon Brando’s Arthur? Did he go off in search of a Wee Baby Stella doll? Was it possible that his Arthur was on a bender after Liz Taylor’s bear left him?
Steven Spielberg was based at the hotel while editing Raiders of the Lost Ark. Was Arthur whispering ideas into his ear or, like ET, telling him to phone home? Did Kanye West’s teddy bear fancy himself a grizzly? And what of Kim Kardashian’s stuffed animal – did it need more filling or just some Botox?
Russel Crowe, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Michael Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson – what were their Arthurs like? What stories went on inside their rooms? How did it influence their decisions? With 162 bedrooms, which includes 18 resident apartments, The Athenaeum is a wall-to-wall repository of unrecorded anecdotes. It’s a venue wherein major films were planned, politics shaped, books finalized, and music inspired.
Enough Green to Go Around
From our room, both Hyde Park and Green Park are visible. A third smaller but equally lush green area is the rich garden growing vertically on The Athenaeum’s façade, one aptly called the Living Wall.
Created by the award-winning French artist, Patrick Blanc, and spanning from street level to the 10th floor, this 2,799-foot exterior is comprised of over 260 species with 18,000 native and exotic plants. An oasis for biodiversity, the massive, organic, and counterintuitive structure offers natural insulation thereby reducing energy consumption. Leaving underage Arthur behind, we sip on Giovanni Castorina’s inventive cocktails, admiring this urban wonder through the windows of the hotel’s luxurious and moody ground floor bar.
The 10th floor, with its newly launched executive lounge, The View, affords us an even more remarkable panoramic overview of London. Created in collaboration with award-winning designer Martin Hulbert, the former penthouses have been gutted, giving way to a living space with a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows. With daily cheese, wine and scones on offer, this aerial retreat lives up to its Athenaeum namesake by boasting a fine collection of books.
The property’s recent overhaul extends to guestrooms, the lobby area and townhouse Residences. The spaces each area function as installation art pieces. Recherché fixtures and trappings collude with magnificent works of art, creating a sense of sophisticated whimsy. The rooms announce, “We are harmonic enough to allow for frivolity.”
With a spa that boasts two cedar wood hot tubs, a sauna, a steam room, a relaxation area, a well-equipped gym, and even specially scheduled skin and face treatments, The Athenaeum is a cloistered world unto itself.
In the timeless Athenauem world, brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin teamed up to create a restaurant known simply as Galvin. Being renowned for French cuisine, each of the brothers had already earned respective Michelin stars. Here, they opted for something different – paying homage to British culinary tradition. Aside from their own signature creations, the focus is on British cuisine with an emphasis on homegrown produce.
Devoid of fanfare, the décor is tastefully minimalist without being austere. From the onset, the focus at Galvin at The Athenaeum is the food. Unobtrusive and attentive, our waiter is a culinary tour guide eager to field questions on any given dish. His recommendations are spot on. Case in point: my Countess Negroni and my partner’s Ayala Brut Majeur.
Pressed Ham Hock and Chicken Terrine with homemade Piccalilli is presented to M, just as Marinated Loch Duart Salmon with avocado puree and Fennel Salad appears before me. The delectable dishes are, respectively, paired with a fine Le Paradou Viognier and a Pinot Grigio, Tenuta Aurea. Memories of Arthur are washed away under a deluge of textures and flavors.
While the starters pique the palate, the entrees are culinary closure. Seared sea bass with citrus-braised endives, spiced raisins and toasted pine nuts have just the right airy meatiness to bring out both the perfected aroma and foam-fresh feel of the fish. My partner’s Salt Marsh Lamb with Ewe’s curd, nettles and Butterhead lettuce – paired with a Bordeaux Supérior Rouge – is a succulent earthy retort to the tantalizing terrine starter. After coyly taking in one another’s euphoric expressions, we split a Caramelized White Chocolate, Pistachio, Raspberry and Lemon Thyme Sorbet. Shocked in a new culinary awareness for English cuisine, we were Galvinized.
“Four songs,” M sighs with packed bags, “we managed four whole songs.” Staring around the room one last time, it feels like I’ve forgotten something. Neither of us wants to be the first to exit. Only two nights and neither of us wants to remember what it’s like not waking up in this room. “We still have a great breakfast waiting for us downstairs,” she states by way of consolation. I nod but have no intention of being the first to go. Something has changed. M reluctantly pulls her bag into the hallway. I take one last look back and smile, realizing that Arthur is nowhere to be seen.