The Savoy Hotel: Lights, toilets, hot water, oh my!

One Dangerous Desire by Christy CarlyleWhile writing One Dangerous Desire, the third book in my Victorian historical romance series for Avon Impulse, I did a good deal of research on hotels during the period. My hero, you see, aspires to be a hotelier, and I needed to know what that might have entailed in the 1890’s. I wanted my hero, Rex Leighton, to imagine the most “modern” hotel possible, since he’s a man who embraces the technological advances of his era, fully aware that’s he’s just on the cusp of the twentieth century.

The Savoy Hotel in London turned out to be perfect inspiration for The Pinnacle that my character, an American entrepreneur living in London, hopes to build. The Savoy Hotel in London

The Savoy, located in the Strand in the City of Westminster in central London, opened in 1889. The luxury hotel was the vision of Richard D’Oyly Carte, a theatrical impresario who’d earned his wealth through the success of Gilbert and Sullivan operas hosted at his theater, among other ventures. In the end, the Savoy Hotel would become Carte’s most successful endeavor. He insisted on luxury in every aspect of its construction and fully embraced the new technology of the late 19th century, installing electricity throughout to light his hotel and elevators to carry passengers from floor to floor, also powered by electricity.

Hotel rooms with an en suite toilet are sometimes hard to find when travelling, even in modern times, but Carte’s hotel boasted a bathroom with hot and cold running water in nearly every room. This was an big innovation for the period and would have made his guests extremely happy, I imagine.

Carte wanted the hotel to thrive in all aspects, including its dining room. He hired famed French chef Auguste Escoffier, who assembled a team of cooks and turned the Savoy Hotel into an enormous culinary success, boasting wealthy and titled clientele, including the Prince of Wales. Aristocratic women who might have scoffed at dining in public previously suddenly viewed it as a social coup to be seen dining at the Savoy. Escoffier seemed to appeal to the ego of famous diners by creating dishes to commemorate them. In 1893, he invented Peach Melba in honor of Australian singer Nellie Melba. And he was so fond of her that he created Melba toast for her in 1897 too.

Dinner at the SavoyThe hotel’s history was not without its darker moments. Escoffier and the hotel’s manager, Cesar Ritz, were dismissed after a scandal involving fraud and mismanagement in 1898. The two men came out of the disagreement with Carte just fine, however, when Mr. Ritz went on to found the Ritz-Carlton hotel group, starting with a Ritz Hotel in Paris, then London, and later New York City. Through it all, Escoffier served as Ritz’s managing chef, setting up kitchens in each hotel and drawing high-society clientele away from the Savoy.

The Savoy passed through Carte’s descendants and the company expanded over the years to include hotels like Claridge’s. Today, the Savoy is still open and available for booking if you’re planning a trip to London. Now under new ownership, the hotel underwent 100 million pounds worth of renovations in 2007 and is said to be as grand and vibrant as ever. However, it will forever be associated with its long, colorful history, and its equally colorful guests over the years, like Claude Monet, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, and many more.

Have you ever stayed at a luxury hotel like the Savoy? If you could stay at any grand hotel in the world, which would it be?

8 Responses

  1. Moana Surfrider and Waikoloa are the “fanciest” hotels I’ve stayed in. My wedding reception was at the Hotel duPont, but they were undergoing renovations at the time, so they put us up in a Sheraton Suites hotel–it was very nice.

    Denise

    • It sounds like you’ve spent time in Hawaii, Denise! I’ve never been, but my Dad was stationed there in the navy before I was born, and my mom still talks about how much she loved it there. Probably the nicest I’ve stayed in was The Drake in Chicago. And whenever I was in Chicago, I always stopped in at the Palmer House Hotel to soak up the elegance of their gorgeous lobby. 🙂

  2. Barbara Monajem

    Well, I just had to go look the Savoy up on line. Um, a little too pricey for me. Also they mention what is nearby on foot or by taxi — not via the Underground, heaven forbid!!

    • Yes! A little over $500 is the cheapest room I found, but you could easily spend a thousand a night if you wanted a true luxury suite. I think the nearest tube station is Covent Garden, which is a few blocks away. The Strand was the hub of Victorian theater and nightlife, which must be why Carte picked it for his hotel, but even today you’d be near many theaters and lots of fun stuff to see and do.

  3. Alyssa Alexander

    Christy, I’ve stayed at the Palmer House in Chicago. It was a weekend splurge and since we got the “cheap” room it was the size of a shoebox and I don’t think it had a window. But the hotel itself was gorgeous! I’ve never stayed at the Drake, but I’ve had drinks in the lobby. I also had drinks in the lobby of the Ritz in Chicago, and we kept waiting for the manager to throw us out. The rabble, you know. Ha!

    • I love Chicago! And I love its historic hotels. I know what you mean about feeling like rabble. That’s how I feel when I wander into the Palmer House just to stare at the mural on the lobby ceiling. 🙂

  4. The Savoy is now on my bucket list. And as for luxury hotels – Have not been. But my all time favorite hotel is The Biltmore in North Carolina. My oldest daughter came with us when she was four and they served her cereal in a very fancy bowl – she thought she was a princess!