Sitting at the flowery rooftop bar at London’s Hotel 41, I facetiously ask general manager Malcolm Hendry if the satisfied guests who keep approaching our table are paid actors, and he goes along with the joke. “That one costs us £1,500 a night,” he says of an American man who just stopped by to say: “I give you guys five out of five!”
In fairness, Hotel 41 does have a lot going for it. It’s located across from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, within walking distance of everything from Harrods to Big Ben. It’s intimate (28 rooms and suites) and easy on the eye (checkerboard floors, tasteful bric-a-brac). At the center of it all is the clubby Executive Lounge, which doubles as the breakfast room and reception area.
It is here that 41’s biggest selling point quickly becomes apparent. Within seconds of my arrival, I am handed a glass of champagne. There is also a pantry, stocked with complimentary canapés and sweets, all of which are available until 1 a.m. (At around midnight, I will take full advantage of this amenity, having already loaded up on steak and scallops at the hotel’s swish English Grill.)
Wandering around the lounge, meanwhile, is Steve Jones, dapper in a three-piece suit and purple tie, whose only job is to make people feel at home. At one point, I ask him if there’s any significance to a nearby Napoleon bust and he nods at my glass. “Napoleon said, ‘In victory, we deserve champagne; in defeat we need it.’ ” He smiles and adds, “In truth, the interior designer had it in storage.”
Hotel 41 is part of the family-run Red Carnation group, which has an uncanny knack for hiring staff who are not only friendly and accommodating, but also warm and funny, who genuinely seem to derive pleasure from making other people happy. “We don’t want people to think we are like this because we are getting paid for it,” Hendry says, gesturing toward the rooftop bartender, who also grew the rosemary and thyme that went into the cocktail I’m drinking. “That guy really cares about his herbs,” he says. “If he doesn’t get it right, he won’t sleep tonight.”