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Dukes Hotel London
Review history and photos
Article added on January 19, 2011

St James's - an area full of history
Situated in the heart of St. James's, just a Stone's throw away from Clarence House and St James's Palace, the Dukes Hotel offers a traditional London atmosphere.

The historical courtyard at Dukes has been traced back to 1532 when King Henry VIII bought a convent at the bottom of the hill. In its place, he built St. James Palace as a hunting lodge and refuge from court politics. From 1660 onwards, with the accession to the throne of Charles II, St. James's Place became highly fashionable. Several elegant coffee houses opened in the area of today's hotel. They were the forerunners of today's Gentlemen's Clubs, three of which are still located in St. James. Among them is the Carlton Club, situated next to Dukes Hotel. Among its most famous members were the prime ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

Just around the corner is the house from which, in 1848, Frederic Chopin (sheet music) went to Guildhall to have his last public performance. Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde wrote in St James. Clarence House is the official residence of the Prince Charles of Wales and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as Prince Harry when they stay in London.

Built largely between 1531 and 1536, St. James's Palace is not only one of the oldest palaces in London and the UK, but also remains the Court at which High Commissioners present letters and Ambassadors are formally accredited because it is still the official residence of the Sovereign, although, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, no monarch has resided in St. James's Palace. They have moved to Buckingham Palace.

Another famous building situated next to the hotel is Spencer House, built from 1756 to 1766. It belongs to the Spencer family, whose most famous member was Lady Diana, also known as “the People's Princess”. Spencer House  is London's only great 18th century town house to survive intact, offering an insight into the development of English neo-classicism. It is leased to Baron Jacob Rothschild, the head of the UK branch of the famous Jewish banking family, which was originally German, as were the Windsor's, who are in fact descendants from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Lord Rothschild has brought many of the original paintings, pieces of furniture and other 18th century objects back to Spencer House.

On Sundays, Spencer House is open to the public. For Duke Hotel guests, a tour can also be arranged during the week.

Dukes Hotel

Around the 1660s the courtyard around today's Dukes Hotel was occupied by Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland, one of the mistresses of King Charles' II. The Duchess bore the King three sons - the Dukes of Cleveland, Grafton, Northumberland and the Countess of Lichfield.

After the King's death, the courtyard was known as Cleveland Court. The two houses which it contained formed a small inn. These buildings were demolished in 1885 and replaced with the building originally utilized as the London Chambers for the sons of Britain's aristocracy  until it became Dukes Hotel in 1908.

It was a hotel for dukes and other members of the aristocracy who appreciated the proximity to the Court of St. James's.
If you wanted to be seen, you go somewhere else. The Dukes is a discreet hotel.

Many shops holding Royal Warrants are located just around the corner, including the wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd (established in 1698), the hatters Lock & Co. (established in 1676) and the shoemaker John Lobb (established in 1849), to name just two. Lock & Co. offers one of the finest examples of an early 18th century shop front in London.

In addition to noblemen, artists, politicians and bankers were regular guests at Dukes Hotel. Sir Edward Elgar (sheet music) always stayed in the Dukes apartments when in London for concerts.

Ian Fleming was a regular guest of Dukes Bar,
where he got the inspiration for the classic James Bond line regarding his Martini: “shaken, not stirred.” He got more than just one literary idea in the bar, where he also wrote parts of the 1953-classic Casino Royal ( or The Dukes and other guests with their stories were a perfect source of material for Ian Fleming, whose hero James Bond is named after St. James's and Bond Street, the places he liked and knew.

HSBC has its headquarters just behind Dukes Hotel. My
elegant Junior Suite 317 with a black marble bathroom is just facing the bank. Therefore, many bankers and their clients stay at the hotel and its bars. In addition to HSBC and the Rothschild employees and clients, Dukes Hotel is working with several other private and investment banks and hedge funds located in the St. James's area.

In 1908, Dukes Hotel, existing of two building linked together, was first independently owned by an English family before becoming a part of Cunard Hotels, which managed The Ritz, The Stafford (now a Kempinski) and Dukes Hotel. For another ten years, the hotel was in the hands of an English family who also owned The Egerton and the Franklin. The present owner is a family from the Middle East, who has stopped collaborating with Campbell Gray. Since 2011, Dukes Hotel is privately owned and operated. Plans are to create a Dukes brand and to expand in the UK, Europe and worldwide.

With its 90 rooms, including 11 suites, Dukes Hotel offers an intimate space of privacy in a low-profile luxury atmosphere. It was first refurbished in 2007 by an Mary Fox Linton. A second refurbishment takes place right now. It will preserve that hotel's traditional look in a refreshed manner.

Asked for an anecdote in a discreet hotel, the head concierge Ian Steiger, who has just been awarded the Morris Golden Keys Award for the best concierge in London for 2010/2011, told me the story of this actor, who had sipped a bit too many martinis at the bar and insisted that the hotel's luggage room was his bedroom. It took Ian half an hour to convince the actor to go up to his suite to sleep.

Since being transformed into a hotel in the Edwardian age, the Dukes is full of stories, most of which remain within its silent walls. It is one of the many icons of St. James's.

Dukes Hotel, 35 St. James's Place, London SW1A 1NY.

The Conservatory, where the Afternoon Tea was served with scones, sandwiches, éclairs and cakes. It was presented on a classic three-tier stand. The tea brands available came Newbyteas and Tea Palace (of which I have tasted an excellent selection at the Intercontinental Park Lane London, too). I tried an Oriental Sencha by Newbyteas with mango, papaya, cornflower, sunflower and rose petals. Unique at Dukes Hotel's afternoon tea was the offer of crumpets in addition to the traditional scones. According to the chef at Dukes, crumpets are an Anglo-Saxon invention. The current version was created in the Victorian period. Crumpets are made of plain flour, yeast, sugar, salt and milk and are eaten together with jam. Photos © Dukes Hotel, London.

With the smoking ban enforced in London, hotel guests are forced to smoke outside. The Lanesborough was the first hotel to react with a smokers lounge in the garden. The Dukes has followed that clever idea with a cigar and cognac courtyard garden, which is heated and open all year. It can accommodate up to 20 guests and features a handmade wooden brandy cabinet. Photo © Dukes Hotel, London.

The fabulous façade and entrance. Photo © Dukes Hotel, London.

Alessandro Palazzi, the legendary barman at work at Dukes Bar. He served me a classic and ice cold Vesper Martini with a No 3 London Dry Gin, a Polish Potocki Vodka and the peel of fresh lemons and oranges from the Amalfi Coast. Be careful, don't drink shots of it or you may end up like the client who stood up and fell flat on his face. Therefore, Alessandro's policy is to serve no more than two Martini's per client. Incidentally, the bar's green Cerignola olives from the Puglia region are the best I have tasted outside of Italy. The idea of serving Martinis ice cold and preparing them in a show in front of the clients' tables comes from the barmen Salvatore and Gilberto, who worked at Dukes Bar from the 1970s onwards. Gilberto Preti just retired in 2004, having transmitted his knowledge to Alessandro in the years before. Photos © Dukes Hotel, London.

The famous Dukes Bar, where Ian Fleming got the inspiration for the classic James Bond line regarding his Martini: “shaken, not stirred.” James Bond's Vodka Martini, known as Vesper Martini, remains the clients favorite drink. On the wall of the bar you can admire the coats of arms of many Dukes who used to frequent the hotel.
Photos © Dukes Hotel, London.

A Junior Suite. Photo © Dukes Hotel, London.

The Dukes Penthouse also know as the Duke of Clarence Suite (511). Photo © Dukes Hotel, London. From here you can overlook Clarence House, St. James's Palace and, in the distance, spot Westminster Abbey. The ceremony of the royal wedding of Prince William with Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011 will start at Clarence House, just a block away behind the hotel, and end at Westminster Abbey.

The Penthouse bathroom in black marble. The same marble was used in my bathroom of the juinor suite 317. Photo © Dukes Hotel, London.

The hotel entrance by night. Photos © Dukes Hotel, London.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.