While 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, 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.
The 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?