WHAT’S IT LIKE? Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of budget accommodation in London, providing you are flexible about location, and the level of service and amenities you require. Head out east of the City of London, and you’ll find most of the major brands: Express by Holiday Inn, Travelodge, Ibis and Mercure. You’ll also find something very different indeed: the Hoxton.
This new-build property on Great Eastern Street is a designer hotel with a difference – it is affordable. It is the brainchild of Sinclair Beecham, one of the founders of the Pret A Manger sandwich bar company; he is passionate on the subject of the customer and, unusually, has backed this passion with action.
The lobby of the hotel is a double-height space with bare brick walls, modern sculptures, low-slung comfy seating around an oversized fireplace and a leather reception desk with items for sale. So far so normal – there are no minibars in the rooms, just fridges for guests to use, so it makes sense to have a shop in reception – but it’s the prices that are unusual. A bottle of Stella Artois, £1.25; a half-bottle of Bollinger, £16; a Kit-Kat, 50p; a travel adaptor, £1.25. Also in reception is a cash machine. Yes, you have to pay for it, but a sign above explains the hotel had two choices: a) a cash machine that you pay for, or b) no cash machine. And then it tells you where to find a free cash machine round the corner. There are free newspapers (The Guardian or the Evening Standard, depending on the time of day) and a large map of London against the wall.
WHERE IS IT? A five-minute walk from Old Street tube on the Northern Line (take exit three when leaving the station).
HOW MANY ROOMS? 205, including 20 with twin beds.
ROOM FACILITIES The six floors are colour-coded; I was on the fifth floor, which was orange. If you have a choice of rooms, try for a City-facing one on a higher floor, although this will take persuasion at the front desk: you can’t specify rooms on the website booking. The corridors are at different angles to break up the monotony, but all the rooms are exactly the same size, differing only in twin or double beds. Amenities are good: tea and coffee-making facilities, a large bar of Pears soap and White Company toiletries, and a five-foot bed. Incredibly, the mark-up on phone calls is almost nonexistent, with 5p a minute to America being a headline rate.
There are plenty of signs in the room, and all have the message that the Hoxton is different from, and better than, other hotels. On the back of the door: “Boring sign No 5: We spent £445 installing a safe in your wardrobe to protect your valuables. Please use it. We can’t accept liability for lost valuables. Mr A L Ock, Head of Security”. In the bathroom: “Hotels ask you to reuse your towels to save the environment (their money more like). So why don’t they give you enough room to hang them up? (We do). PS It’s good to save the planet. PPS We save 25p per towel (in case you were wondering).” Whether you find this irritating or not, they have a point – there are never enough places to hang a towel in hotel bathrooms (those in the Hoxton have four towel rails and two coat hooks). Minibar items, fresh milk and water are free, and full film and web access via the TV is only £7.50 for 24 hours.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS The excellent Hoxton Grille is run by an external company (grillerestaurants.com). It’s a no-nonsense place with an admirably restricted menu and daily specials such as chicken and mushroom pie with green salad. The bar spills out into the lobby, and as well as a full selection of wines and cocktails, they serve alcohol-free beer, perfect for a working evening. You can have breakfast there as well, with individual items priced rather than a buffet, although included in the room price is a Lite Pret Breakfast (yoghurt, fresh orange juice and a banana) hung on your door handle at any time from 6am onwards.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES Just past reception, there are four computer terminals with free access to the internet, and throughout the hotel there is free wifi and broadband access. There are also seven meeting rooms towards the rear entrance of the hotel on Willow Street.
LEISURE FACILITIES For £5 guests can use an excellent gym and pool – Market Sports Gym – 400m away.
VERDICT Beecham is cautious about expansion plans, but if this one is making money, whatever the brand becomes, Hoxton Hotels (look at the website name) or Urban Lodges, it’s a winning idea.
PRICE From £1; top rate is £149.
CONTACT 81 Great Eastern St, London EC2; tel +44 (0)20 7550 1000; hoxtonhotels.com.