Rock ‘n’ roll originated in the United States, but most people agree that England perfected it with groups like Queen, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Cream. Even some American legends like Jimi Hendrix first found fame on the other side of the pond. Naturally, London has countless hotel-related rock stories, from post-rehab Amy Winehouse trashing the Sanderson to Courtney Love earning “wild animal” status for her 43rd birthday bash at the Covent Garden. Still, a true rock ‘n’ roll hotel requires more than just room-thrashing tales. In the spirit of our previous New York City list, we singled out the five London hotels that best epitomize the rock star experience.
The visionaries behind Sanctum Soho all managed rock bands and/or labels, so who better to understand the twisted and debaucherous needs of (both real and self-perceived) rock stars than those who spent half their lives listening to their absurd requests. Built from two Georgian townhouses, Sanctum Soho is a 30-suite boutique hotel with an in-house recording studio, Hall of Fame-worthy decorations and an open-air jacuzzi smack dab in the middle of its 24-hour rooftop bar. Tattoo artist Dan Gold, who inked the likes of Kate Moss, created many of the hotel visuals, and Variety magazine curates a collection of iconic film and music imagery. Guests have included Goldie, Paul Oakenfold, Jason Statham, Motörhead, Hugh Laurie and even seriously un-rock ‘n’ roll cats like Harry Styles. Appropriately, Sanctum Soho had its own BBC documentary titled Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel.
The Columbia has been called London’s answer to the Chelsea in NYC. Originally five large Victorian townhouses, the space was made into the Palace Hotel and then The Columbia Club before taking its current name in 1975. A 1983 visit from Liverpool post-punks The Teardrop Explodes—who included “The Columbia” song with words from the staff as a bonus track on their 2004 rarities disc Zoology—helped make the hotel popular with music artists. Oasis later scored its first major BBC radio spins with the Definitely Maybe track “Columbia” about the hotel. Despite the music love, the hotel eventually banned Oasis for throwing chairs out the windows onto the cars below, about which Noel Gallagher defended himself, “Those plate-glass windows were just saying, ‘Throw a chair through me!’” The 24-hour bar was a big draw for rock stars since the mini-bar never tells them how amazing they are.
When Jimi Hendrix tragically passed away in London, his death certification listed the Cumberland as his place of residence. It was also the place where the guitar god gave his final interview. Surely we all agree that’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the lost Hall of Famer, the hotel inaugurated the Jimi Hendrix Suite with framed articles, psychedelic wallpaper and a reproduction of his Flying V, the guitar he played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Today, the Cumberland is a gorgeous five-star hotel, but back in the 1970s, it was a seedier affair where touring musicians and groupies reproduced other types of flying consonants.
THE PORTOBELLO HOTEL
The guest list at this famous boutique hotel has included Oasis, Blur, U2, Axl Rose, Mick Jagger, George Michael, Alice Cooper and, in 1979, Alice Cooper’s giant boa constrictor in the bathtub. (We hope someone warned housekeeping.) The Sex Pistols so enjoyed their 1976 stay that they returned 20 years later on their reunion tour, and Robbie Williams once tried to buy one of the hotel beds. Made from two neoclassical mansions and opened in 1971, the Portobello has less than two dozen rooms that, per the hotel’s less-than-humble scribble, has always “been THE hotel for those in the know from the world of music, show business and fashion.” What helps is the hotel’s 24-hour bar and eager willingness to accommodate, which included a champagne bath for Johnny Depp and Kate Moss in Room 16.
JUMEIRAH CARLTON TOWER
This hotel originally earned its rep as Park Hyatt Carlton Tower, so right now you might justifiably ask, “How the fuck can a Hyatt be rock ‘n’ roll?” This five-star establishment, opened back in 1961, deserves the nod for an appearance in the 1991 documentary In Bed with Madonna (given the tamer title Madonna: Truth or Dare in the U.S.). In the early days, rock stars loved the hotel for its high-security, high-service approach that once called for two hotel staffers to every one guest. Likewise, the hotel sits adjacent to Hyde Park, home to historic concert performances by Queen, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Paul McCartney and the massive Live 8 charity concert in which the classic Pink Floyd lineup reunited for the first time in 30 years.