You won’t find many tourists around the Montcalm at The Brewery London City. And if arriving in thoroughly financial district of Barbican on a weekend, there’s hardly anyone at all. At least that’s how it was as I trundled my bag from the Moorgate Tube stop one weekend last March, all the while hoping at least some of the “brewery” in the name remained in the building.
The façade of the grade II 18th-century brick building certainly looks the part, with a handsome but neoclassical archway serving as the gate of tthe complex. On the brick wall adjacent, a chiseled, time-worn plague reads, “Their majesties King George III & Queen Charlotte were received in this brewery by Samuel Whitbread 24th May 1787.” Unfortunately, the last beer brewed there was in 1976, and the closest place for a decent pint is the attached Jugged Hare pub.
Step through the archway about 10 yards, and a decent-sized cobblestoned courtyard opens up left and right. Clearly it would have buzzed with horses and wagons in its heyday, but now it stands empty, silent, and even a wee ghostly. You’ll have to use your imagination for the London heritage connection. The entrance to the hotel is in the arch itself. Just walk toward the dapper doorman standing outfront. With a nod and smile, he’ll open the heavy wood doors into the world of the Montcalm.
Masculine—that’s the first word that comes to mind when stepping into the large reception area and lounge. Atop a mirror-shined white marble floor, plumb brown leather sofas and armchairs, spaced for privacy, look ready to host either high-powered business talk or confessions to a psychologist. Above, arched rows of brick, fused with black iron joiners, form the ceiling, and get further support from several posts in the room. Imagine horses tied to them, and you’ll get some idea of space’s previous life a stables.
The glowing hotel reception desk serves as the backdrop, and seems all the brighter in the overall dim lighting of the room. The desk’s two front backlit panels make a sort of Rorschach test, looking at times like a miscroscoped cross-section of a calcified tree; a melting chocolate, vanilla, and caramel sundae; or a sudsy lager. A small annex to the right of it offers a lighter tone, with beige walls, striped upholstery, and skylight above.
As with almost everything at the hotel, check-in is all business and any smiles that come are for the occasion, but acting otherwise wouldn’t fit the staid atmosphere. What seems most important to the staff is facilitating your needs in the most efficient, speedy, and professional way possible, and not giving you a hug and hot cocoa (although they could undoubtedly be arranged).
The business focus of the hotel is emphasized further down the corridor beyond reception, where you come to the first of the Montcalm’s four meeting rooms and five private event spaces that fill out the ground floor of the complex and are versatile enough to host anyone from a company board to a 200-strong wedding party.
The rest of the property is taken up by 235 rooms and suites in seven categories. Room 127, a “WOW suite,” (starting at $519 per night, standard rooms $194) did not quite earn its name when I first stepped inside, but did draw out an impressed “oh.” Although layouts of the Montcalm’s rooms do change in the structure of the building, this spacious suite adopts the standard, with bathroom immediately to the right, minibar and closet to the left, and bed and sitting area beyond. The lobby’s masculine touch remains, the standout being the dark wood four poster bed with canopy. Although the tones don’t make for inspired design, they do facilitate deep sleep. For further help, order more pillows from the “pillow menu” which has six different types, including an “anti-aging” pillow treated with Vitamin E to help prevent skin aging.
Two other parts of the room also break with tradition. First, an the “aroma box,” (the first I’ve seen in any hotel) sits on the desk and sprays lavender (the default scent) but can be loaded with other aromas like “fresh clean, pink grapefruit, saw grass, marine fresh, and romantic touch” upon request. The second is the large glass pane next to the adult sized bathtub (good for one 6’1” travel writer) in the bathroom, which allows you to watch TV through it or tease anyone on the other side with a sexy bubble bath show. If you prefer to stand, the rain shower has multiple waterspouts and can keep you hot and happy for a long time, as does the fine product by Hermes and Elemis.
Booking a suite also gives access to the Executive Club Lounge, which basically has a reading and dining area stocked with books, nibbles, and the latest newspapers. A side room hosts the breakfast buffet is in the morning. Just get directions before seeking it out as the convoluted maze of hallways in the historical building can lead you to unexpected places, like the hotel’s small sauna and steam room or the Jugged Hare. If there are any cracks in the business facade, they’re here. Just talk to the other guests. One happy couple was celebrating their second anniversary and considered the Montcalm ideal for a quiet romantic London getaway, without tourists.
It may be in their sentiments that the key to unlocking the Montcalm can be found. At first glance, the hotel may not exude the sort of warmth or zest for life, but for people who want to make their own, all the tools are available, including, perhaps most importantly, an eager staff ready to help. Business may remain the order of the day, but it’s not the law (unless they are lawyers, of course). With that in mind, an evening at Montcalm at The Brewery London City may be just what you are looking for.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Montcalm at the Brewery London City
All photos by Mike Dunphy