Of the newest vocabulary to hit the travel lexicon, “bleisure”—the combination of business and leisure—is affixing itself to ever more hotel profiles around the world, as the trend proves popular to those who work on the road but don’t want to lose all the fun and games. Top-notch business amenities and facilities, including faster-than-usual and more secure WiFi, find a more charming form among a more playful interior design, on-site entertainment, and on-site dining with a personality.
A prime example can be found at the Amba Charing Cross in London, just east of Trafalgar Square, at a bend in the River Thames. The business vibe begins out front, both in the throngs that ebb and flow from the ever busy Charing Cross tube station, and the weighty, Imperial, Victorian-era Grade II listed building (opened 1864) atop it, where the Amba makes its home. The freestanding cross in the center of it all is a Victorian replica of an Eleanor cross, one of twelve erected in memory of Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward I, aka “Longshanks” (the one from Braveheart).
It’s obvious from your first step through the bulbous glass front door in the Amba Hotel Charing Cross that its eye is fixed firmly on a contemporary boutique style, with a sleek, modern, polish (but still hotel grade furnishings) in line with its 4-star rating, as is the smartly suited staff (the standard dark shade) behind the curving purple padded reception desk, who do indeed check you in (and offer a drink to refresh) quickly and efficiently.
Step past reception, down the red carpeted and marble-floor corridor, and the vastness of the space begins to reveal itself, especially across from the private access business lounge at the base of the grand staircase, which swirls upward in measured but grand Victorian fashion, wide enough for two women, bustles included, to proceed up or own side by side.
However, in today’s world, most people prefer the elevators, which send guests up to 239 rooms across 6 floors. I punched in 5 and made my way down Room 520, an “executive double” (starting about $428 per night) and corner room looking out to the Strand below and the neoclassical spire of St. Martin-in-the-Fields beyond.
The business side of the room comes out most in the sensible layout (first bed, then-seating area) and the demure blues, greys, and browns that both enliven but keep things serious enough for hard work. The sofa and armchair, upholstered like a hipster business suit, and desk with HDMI and USB sockets also add ample comfort and functionality for solo work or intimate deal making between 2-3 people. If working online, your stay comes with blazingly fast (and free!) Internet, which, with an average download speed of 134.3 Mbps (according to Rotten WiFi), claims to be the fastest in the world ( “in any Meetings & Events hotels“). If you forgot your computer, you can still enjoy it via the iPad by the bed.
When tired, the immensely comfortable and plush king-size Hypnos bed (the bed of Queen Elizabeth II), dressed in 400-count Egyptian cotton bed linen, welcomes sleep easily and deeply. Those wanting to spend the night in bed watching movies might prefer a different room, however, as the room size puts the flat screen some distance away, but at 46 inches, it’s plenty for any show that doesn’t require fine digital details.
It’s worth taking a bit of time to explore the building during your stay, as more than a few gems lay behind closed (butsometimes openable) doors, starting with the sumptuous ballroom created by Edward Middleton Barry, the same architect of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Victorian tastes are easily visible, in the original ornate ceiling carvings and plastering, both figurative and geometric, hung with weighty brass chandeliers which help illuminate the room when not enough sunlight filters through tall arched windows flowing with deep red curtains.
The Terrace, the hotel’s primary dining area, is also worth investigating. The attached bar also strikes an excellent balance balance between business and pleasure, with stimulating purples and reds in the upholstery, but more somber, work-friendly round tables similar to Starbucks (complete with plugged into Apples). However, the best place to sit remains under the glass covered dining area that perches just above Charing Cross. Indeed, it’s worth the additional 12 pounds ($20) to your room rate for breakfast, just to enjoy the kinetic view. Plus, the eggs Florentine isn’t half bad either.
The Terrace is also perhaps the best place to get feel the sense of warmth the hotel’s branders wanted the otherwise meaningless name Amba to inspire. Largely, the Amba Charing Cross achieves this in all aspects of service. Although it mostly remains solidly four-star in amenities, it does often try to punch above its weight, which is admirable. Besides, the hotel seems more eager to invest in high end technology rather than antique Chippendale furniture. That what keeps things so bleisure, and dare I say, full of bleasure, too.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Amba Charing Cross
Lead photo by Amba Charing Cross, all others by Mike Dunphy