“The Bloomsbury is about staying true to Lutyens’ design, to the neighbourhood itself and to the era in which the building was born…”
We’re sitting in the once underused hotel reception area, today reincarnated as The Coral Room, also known as Bloomsbury’s ‘grand café’. Michael Neve is talking to me about The Bloomsbury, the hotel in the centre of the eponymous neighbourhood. It’s his second home, and as the hotel’s General Manager he probably knows all there is to know about the place: every corner of every room, every single detail of the building’s history, its past and its present.
Michael tells me how The Bloomsbury’s story began back in 1928, the year that English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned by the YWCA Central Club to design the building. Lutyens’ projects ranged from country houses in England and to the restoration of Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland to India’s new imperial capital in far-flung New Delhi. Today, the area is still called ‘Lutyens Delhi’ in his honour. The old Central Club building on Great Russell Street is perhaps Lutyens’ major contribution to London. The building’s rich historical detail, sturdy foundations and elegant, pared-down façade has led to it being lauded as his ‘finest neo-Georgian building’ in the capital by Chairman of the Lutyens Trust, Martin Lutyens.
Lutyens, faced with the colossal task of designing the YWCA’s Central Club, responded with an essay in austere and materially rich neo-Georgian architecture. Years later the building was listed as a striking example of the inter-war style by an international master. As Michael guides me about The Bloomsbury’s corridors, it is clear to see that Lutyens’ legacy lives on in the building today, its rich heritage clearly apparent from the moment the hotel comes into view. “The Corinthian pilasters that flank the doorways, the original windows facing outwards and the street-lamps which line the hotel’s side lane reveal something of the internal aesthetics; bold and beautiful without ostentation,” he says. “We may be in The Bloomsbury today, but the YWCA’s spirit is still very much at the centre of how we operate as a hotel.”
The Doyle Collection, which Michael explains is very much a family concern, bought The Central Club in 1998. While staying faithful to the original building, a major renovation was carried out. Key features of the original building, including the old Chapel and the Library, now dedicated to Irish poet Seamus Heaney, were retained. The structural and decorative features were fully renovated and the building was returned to its former glory. The Bloomsbury was born, opening in September 2000.
Michael has been The Bloomsbury’s General Manager ever since that turn-of-the-century opening nearly two decades ago. “I’ve been here since it was a blank piece of paper,” he tells me. “The building was originally opened in 1932, and is today Grade II listed. We’ve remained faithful to Lutyens’ concept for the building. I guess you could say, it is today as we feel he would’ve liked it.” Michael explains that The Bloomsbury is very much about staying true to Lutyens’ design, to the neighbourhood itself and to the era in which the building was born. This is a hotel that is as much about literature and the arts as is it is about hospitality. “Every change, every project at The Bloomsbury and The Doyle Collection, is overseen by our owner, Bernadette Gallagher, and her design team. We’re a small company really, and it’s a refreshing feeling to have our owner so involved every step of the way.”
Bloomsbury is obviously a key neighbourhood and vital factor too. The hotel is not simply connected to the area by its name but is central to it in other ways, with a number of key partnerships in place playing homage to Bloomsbury’s creative, artistic and literary DNA. “It’s been a conscious effort for us to tie ourselves to the character of the neighbourhood which defines us. Poet in the City and the Royal Society of Literature are just two of the organisations we work with in partnership. Given our positioning, it is important for us to connect and work together closely.” Today, The Bloomsbury continues to stay true to the spirit of its creator and its neighbourhood, with carefully curated bars and restaurants on site, including Dalloway Terrace and the recently opened, Martin Brudnizki designed, The Coral Room. As Michael guides me around and tells me the story of the hotel which has become so central to his life, he reminds me that The Bloomsbury’s success is mainly on his team members. His knowledge of the place is unmatched, as is The Bloomsbury itself among the area’s hotels. I for one count myself as a regular, and so should you.