The prospect of a Thanksgiving jaunt to London, my favorite international city, had me very excited, if for no other reason than it was my first time leaving the country in two years. Then I started looking at hotels. The nightly rates made me, a seasoned traveler who loves overpaying for old-school luxury and opulent in-room dining, gasp. A celebrity favorite, Chiltern Firehouse, was inching towards lunacy price-wise (rooms typically start at $618, but were double this), to say nothing of my actual favorite, Claridge’s in Mayfair (from $818, normally — but also double the price over Thanksgiving). Of course, this was meant to be a holiday for my girlfriend and me, so I wanted to splurge. But it had to be within reason. As I panic-browsed the American Express Travel portal, I texted my friend Jill DiResta, the director of sales and marketing at the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles. She reminded me that we had a mutual friend, Rob DelliBovi, a veteran travel agent. Maybe he could help.
I hear you cackling. “This boomer is using a travel agent in 2021.” The answer is yes, I am. The role of the travel agent is a lost art; these are experts who help you out while the hotels and airlines foot the bill — you don’t pay a dime. After exchanging some catch-up pleasantries (Rob used to hook me up at the Soho Grand in the mid-aughts, it was … a different time!) I sent over my needs: a gym, 24-hour room service, and a central location close to the tube. Within an hour, Rob shot back an email full of recommendations. I zeroed in one I had heard of before, called the Ned (from $338, but ran over $500 during this Thanksgiving).
The Ned is the creation of Nick Jones, founder of the Soho House conglomerate. You can tell that this property is related, because the design and attention to every small detail give it away. But the differences are mercifully all positive, especially when it comes to clientele. Upon entry, due to the sheer size of the place, you feel like you are in Vegas. The Ned is fucking huge, and after sundown, there is a band playing in the lobby. All that’s missing are slot machines, carpeting, and indoor smoking. Initially built between 1924 and 1939, the building housed the Midland Bank headquarters until around the millennium. In 2017 it officially reopened as a 252-room hotel and members’ club (though anyone can stay at the hotel) spanning eight floors above ground and three below. It has nine restaurants (including the breakfast go-to Millie’s Lounge and the Italian-leaning Emilia’s), 15 bars, two pools, a spa, a barbershop, a gym, and a Tapestry Room. I had never heard of the latter, but it turns out it’s just a nice room for hosting a party, with a pastoral tapestry wrapped around the upper walls. Sure! And yet, somehow, the galleria-level mass scale doesn’t negatively affect the overall experience. As soon as you step off the elevator to go to your room, the live music is gone, and you are in a period-correct ’20s estate. Chandeliers everywhere you look.
The Ned’s location was not ideal. As I understand it, the City of London neighborhood is essentially the Financial District. But I have lived in New York long enough to handle myself, and more importantly, after I arrived at 8 a.m. from Heathrow, the staff immediately let me into my room, which made me immensely happy. The Grand Heritage (another perk of working with a travel agent: Rob secured us a room upgrade) was velvety and Edwardian, and the marble bathroom featured a giant tub and walk-in shower. Like its Soho House cousins, the Ned features every single product Cowshed makes. It’s how hotels should be: multiple body scrubs, shampoos, Marvis toothpaste, and even a sheet mask in the bathroom. That is true luxury.
All that said, the main draw of this property for me was the gym. I am a fitness freak (five years sober, it’s all I have), and my experiences in London in the past have been lackluster (except for a Barry’s Bootcamp in Shoreditch that played drum ’n’ bass). The gym at the Ned has multiple rooms and every bell and whistle you could imagine. Do you want to do heavy barbell deadlifts? No problem. A straightforward Peloton workout? There are two bikes available. Boxing drills with a trainer? Just ask. Sled push? Right this way! My only complaint was the dim lighting: I had to squint when converting kilograms to pounds, but it was worth it. It’s not just the nicest hotel gym I have ever been to. It’s the nicest gym I have ever been in. The tile flooring and wood-paneled walls make you feel like you are getting obliques in your most affluent friend’s grandparent’s Cotswolds estate. This means a lot.
I didn’t patronize the hammam, sauna, and steam room floor until the last day, but it is divine. Guests who book directly with the Ned get complimentary access, and after an unfortunate Dover sole-induced food poisoning incident, it turns out I needed it. Between the healing powers of the hammam, and the all-important daily pump while on holiday, I left healed. Also, the granola at Millie’s was better than expected. I will be staying at the Ned again.
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