The gorgeous Grade II-listed heritage property first opened in 1879, and counts the likes of King George VI and Charlie Chaplin among its past guest list. The hotel was forced to close in 2002 with expensive structural repairs needed, and remained vacant for almost 20 years before being brought back to life with a £50 million restoration, finally re-opening in May 2021. The hotel is independently owned by Hortons’ Estate and managed in partnership with Starwood Capital Group.
Where is it?
The hotel is centrally located on Colmore Row, one of the city’s most prestigious business address, with a row of grand 19th century facades lining the avenue opposite St Philip’s Cathedral. It’s a five-minute walk from Birmingham New Street railway station, Snow Hill station, the city centre and The Bullring. There is no onsite parking (though hotel guests can get 55 per cent discount on parking at the Snow Hill or B4 car parks, also a five-minute walk away). The main entrance is tucked away on Church Street, with a few steps up to reception, though there is another accessible entrance.
What's it like?
The sense of grandeur from the exterior is magnified on the inside, with a mix of French Renaissance, Victorian and Art Deco features throughout the property and its 185 rooms. Original period details have been restored, from ornate ceilings to mosaic tiled floors. Arguably the most stunning feature is the grand staircase supported by marble columns that sweeps through all ten floors of the building, though there is also a bank of lifts, with miniature screens inside displaying the day’s headline and weather. Key card access is not required to reach the floor, but is required to enter the corridors leading to the rooms.
To complete the sense of stepping back in time, there was a period drama being filmed the day of my stay, with early 20th century figures dotting in and out of the hotel, and film crews blocking the road outside.
Shortly after check-in an email arrived with a curated list of highlights in the surrounding area, which I appreciated.
The property has seven categories of room. This includes the entry-level Grand Room (20 sqm); Grand Loft (20 sqm) on the upper floors (featuring “characterful sloping ceilings”); Grand Accessible (25 sqm); Grand Deluxe (25 sqm); plus Junior, Grand and the Penthouse suites.
I stayed in a Grand Deluxe room on the fifth floor (room 510), which come with additional space, though no other notable amenities. The entrance features a dressing area with a handsome dark wood cabinet housing facilities such as the coffee machine and kettle, quirky coffee cups, complimentary yoga mat (and QR code for online classes), and hanging space for clothes. The minibar was slightly sparse, featuring just two complimentary bottles of water and some fresh milk – but missing any snacks or soft drinks.
There is also a luggage rack and a full length mirror, however some additional decorations or furniture could have made the entrance a little more welcoming.
Tucked around the corner is the bedroom, which had a lovely aesthetic that blended a sense of heritage with contemporary facilities. The bed and headboard featured a sophisticated navy leather, surrounded by dark wood panelling and a mirror, while attractive tall windows with white wooden frames and cornicing on the ceilings gave a sense of history. Full length curtains on overlapping rails offered excellent blackout function, and I enjoyed the view over St Paul’s Cathedral. The room also featured modern artworks commissioned especially for the hotel, Art Deco-esque lampshades and a cute rotary-style telephone by the bed.
I was disappointed there was no purpose-built work desk, however I was able to make do with a decent-sized solid circular table and comfortable blue armchairs that were situated near to a double plug socket with USBs. Wifi was free and easy to connect.
There was no iPad device or complicated central light panels, which I liked, and the old-school simplicity felt in keeping with the theme of the hotel.
I thought the bathroom was particularly lovely. An entire wall of windows (with thick sliding frosted glass panes to protect one’s modesty) filled the spacious room with natural light, which is a pleasant change to most bathrooms these days that are enclosed with artificial light. I also enjoyed the design details, with a patterned tile floor, cream-tiled brickwork effect walls, and tasteful Art Deco decorations such as a black hexagonal mirror and silver fixtures.
A bathtub featured a rain shower and shower option – and while this can feel old-fashioned in other properties, it felt appropriate and classic within the theme of the hotel. A large shelf behind the sink was useful to store your own toiletries. Lovely Molton Brown miniatures were provided by the hotel (though it was a shame not to see the hotel following the more sustainable trend of having larger bottles) and there were thoughtful details such as a magnifying mirror at the sink. I did notice the hotel dressing gown was marked, which was a slight dent in the otherwise premium experience.
Food and drink
Parisian-chic Madeleine is a beautiful bar with dark coffered ceilings, ornamental gold panelling, elaborate light fixtures and stunning marble-arched windows. The eclectic mix of furniture has been curated with an artistic eye: think crushed velvet salmon sofas, rich dark blue cushions, and vibrant impressionist-style rugs.
An inventive cocktail menu has been inspired by French Impressionism, though you can also request any cocktail off-menu and staff are happy to accommodate. I chose the “Insanity” cocktail, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, which was highly Instagrammable with a mad blue swirl and packed a powerful sweet-sour punch. The service was exceptional – staff were attentive, friendly and engaged.
After a pre-dinner cocktail, I headed downstairs to Isaac’s (named after the original founder of the hotel), a “New York-style brasserie with a twist of Brum”. The restaurant has a chic diner feel, with green and white tiling, comfy leather booths, and tessellated tiled flooring. The menu features classic American comfort food at a reasonable price point. The steak had been recommended and did not disappoint, though I made a rogue choice with a glass of The Black Shiraz ‘Winemakers Reserve’, Berton Vineyard, Australia.
Service was again notably warm and friendly – halfway through dinner a staff member volunteered to take my phone to reception to charge it before it died. There was a cool, buzzy vibe on a Tuesday night, and is clearly a hotspot for locals as much as hotel guests.
Breakfast is also served here – with a cold buffet of cereals, pastries, fruit and yoghurts, plus an a la carte menu of hot dishes from avocado sour dough to a full English breakfast.
The Grand Ballroom offers a showstopping Louis XIV-style interior capable of hosting up to 300. Nine additional meeting spaces are located on the first floor.
There is a small gym on the third floor, but it’s a rather claustrophobic space with no natural daylight. Facilities include two treadmills, two cross trainers, a bike, Technogym weight machine and free weights.
I had a fantastic stay at Birmingham’s original grand-dame hotel. It’s great to see a piece of history restored to its former glory and ready to welcome visitors in a new era. The central location was ideal, rooms were attractive and comfortable and the F&B facilities were great.
A central stay in Birmingham in a beautiful heritage property
Pre-dinner cocktails at Madeleine’s Bar
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in October start from £259 for a Grand Deluxe room (£219 for entry-level)
Colmore Row, Birmingham, B3 2BS; +44 (0)121 827 9600; thegrandhotelbirmingham.co.uk