One of the few pleasures currently available to the ardent traveler is the thrill of anticipation. In normal times, I travel so routinely that there is little opportunity to dream. I choose a destination, make reservations, head down to the airport, and fly. In contrast, I now find myself lingering over memories of cherished regions and best-loved hotels and planning potential trips. Although hideaways are my specialty, I am certainly not immune to the charm of grand hotels. One of my longtime favorites is Claridge’s in London. In its current form, Claridge’s opened in 1898, and despite a major art deco makeover in 1929, the hotel has never closed, even during the Blitz. (Indeed, World War II was something of a high spot in the hotel’s history: Much of the OSS — the precursor to the CIA — was based there during the conflict, and Generals Marshall and Eisenhower planned the invasion of North Africa from suite 402.)
But with the arrival of COVID-19, the hotel was forced into lockdown on March 24 last year. Fortuitously, the subsequent six months without paying guests became the final phase of an astonishingly ambitious three-year renovation project. This has seen the construction of a five-story basement beneath the existing six-story structure, housing, among other things, a spa, fitness center, swimming pool and wine store. Architectural ingenuity was further stretched by the construction of two new floors on the roof of the historic building. And there is also a new restaurant, Davies and Brook, helmed by chef Daniel Humm, who made his stellar reputation at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Currently becalmed and dreaming of future travels, I imagine myself strolling through Claridge’s exquisite art deco foyer, perhaps in search of afternoon tea or a glass of Champagne, exhilarated by the sense that once again all is right with the world.