A few years ago, London’s Bloomsbury and Holborn districts, home to some of the world’s greatest intellectuals, writers and artists over the centuries, were collectively rebranded as Midtown by local businesses in an effort to raise their profile and appeal more to tourists; American tourists, specifically. The area, which lies just to the east of Soho but west of the City, is often overlooked by visitors preferring to stay at overpriced yet soulless chain hotels bang in the middle of the West End. Fact is, though, Midtown, as it’s now called, actually makes the perfect base from which to explore the best in culture, entertainment, fine dining and nightlife that London has to offer.
The area’s name isn’t the only thing to have been given a facelift. The former Grange Hotel, which was perfectly decent if a little staid, has been picked up by Leonardo Hotels (part of the Israeli Fattal group), shaken all about and given a serious injection of midtown funk and contemporary cool. It’s as if Damien Hirst, Banksy and Keith Haring (if he were alive) had clubbed together to buy an old Holiday Inn and turned it into a temple of taste for the Instagram generation.
Standing at the busy junction of Southampton Row and Theobalds Road, the first thing that hits you is the stunningly huge mural of a vibrant London street scene that stretches from the pavement right to the top of this 213-bedroomed hotel. At 125 feet tall, it’s the tallest in the capital and was painted by local urban artist Dan Kitchener. Inside the lobby, the pop art vibe continues with video installations, sculptures and paintings all clamouring colourfully for your attention, alongside an MTV-style soundtrack. As I checked in, some hip kids in platform sneakers were playing at the retro arcade video games installed next to the reception desk where a life-sized sculpture of a black panther stood guard on the other side.
A lift whisked me up to my generously sized room on the seventh floor – that’s the other advantage of hotels in this part of town: more space as well as more bang for your buck – which looked out towards Covent Garden, just a few streets away. A modern, playful party vibe permeates the room, funky without being intimidating. There’s a sense of relaxed luxury and plenty of thought has gone into how the space will be used on a practical level, not just how it looks.
An ultra-cool red Smeg fridge matches the Nespresso machine and, in the lounge area, a couple of Scandinavian looking mid-century-modern chairs that are actually comfortable as well as fashionable. Edgy, Berlinesque nightlife inspired artwork adorns the walls, giving my room a Blade Runner meets the Berghain look – which is a good thing in my book, but more conservative guests can opt for a room with a slightly more toned-down décor. The bed is huge, super king size, and just as comfortable, if not more, than hotels I’ve stayed at costing triple that of the NYX. Windows that actually open to let in real fresh air are always a bonus, plus there’s also an efficient and easy-to-use A/C system in case you’re more fond of the artificial stuff.
My bathroom was decently sized, with trendy tiling, studio lighting and a synth-wave scene recessed into the wall that declared in a neon-lit futuristic script ‘It was all just a dream’. The cubicle shower was powerful and the toiletries, which came in large, refillable (and therefore non-stealable!) bottles were of the ecologically as well as dermatologically sensitive kind.
Food and drink
There are so many fabulous world-class restaurants just a few minutes walk from the NYX but, should you decide to have a night in, their ground floor restaurant has it covered with a good range of international cuisine to suit all tastes, including plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. I took a seat by one of the floor-to-ceiling picture windows that looked out upon busy Londoners scuttling about in all directions and ordered a ‘Hackney Chariot’ cocktail to start the evening.
My refreshing seabass ceviche with ruby grapefruit starter was followed by a tasty creole crayfish burger with scorched peppers, green slaw and fries covered in spicy Bloody Mary ketchup. Prices are extremely reasonable for a central London hotel of this quality and the service, by friendly staff all rocking double denim and white trainers, was brisk and attentive. As the evening progressed, shutters came down on the windows and the lighting dimmed to create a sultrily cool, late-bar atmosphere aided by the laid-back DJ-curated soundtrack.
Water therapy of a different kind is available down in the basement level where the Rena spa sits. Dark mosaic tiles surround the 13-metre swimming pool as well as more neon signage and Greco-Roman columns decorated with bold murals that echo the nightclub-y vibe of the bedrooms. There’s a sauna and steam room and plenty of loungers dotted around to bliss-out in. Next door, a fully equipped gym offers yoga and Pilates classes and two private suites are available with a range of rejuvenating spa treatments from cult French brand Caudalie.
Breakfast the next morning was served in a more businesslike area on the first floor where an open-plan buffet provided the standard range of hot and cold options plus limitless coffee, tea and juices.
Returning to the funky ground floor area, I consulted a friendly and obliging member of the concierge team – here rebranded ‘City Lovers’ – who helped me plan my busy day exploring all the museums, galleries and boutiques of Midtown that lay right on the doorstep of the NYX. The British Museum and Peacock Theatre are a short walk away as are the delightful gardens of Russell Square on the borders of Bloomsbury.
In a nutshell
Savvy weekenders and design-minded visitors to the British capital should seriously think about eschewing some of the bland and overpriced chain hotels of the West End and headed instead to the NYX. It combines midtown funk with uptown luxury, and its favourable room rates will leave much more money in your pocket to spend downtown.
From £159 room only.
Address: 50-60 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AR
Tel: 020 7242 1800