London has a lot to do with honoring the past for me – family history, personal history, and the rich history of England, herself. For this reason, I pay regular homage to several traditions there, one of which is visiting the Dorchester Hotel…
In order for you to appreciate the importance of the Dorchester in my life, I need to give you a little background… My parents lived in England during the first year of their married life and the Dorchester is where they were staying when they got married. To this day, I have a little cream pitcher that my mother stole from there. (My mother was a big believer in stealing flowers and fruit out of people’s gardens, towels from hotels, and ashtrays and other memorabilia from restaurants.) Here’s a story to illustrate…
The “Pen and Pencil” was a famous restaurant on 45th Street, on the East side of New York City from 1939 until I don’t know when (it’s not there any more) and it was a hangout for movie people, like my parents. One evening, my mother and father were eating dinner there with a group of people in the business, including Ava Gardner, who was a buddy of my mother’s.
My mother knew Ava from working with her on “The Barefoot Contessa,” starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava, and Rossano Brazzi. (Mama has a wonderful part in the movie – she’s the fabulous looking, trashy blond who gets slapped across the face in the first scene and singes your eyeballs in a skintight, gold lame dress at the end!)
This was my mother’s first time at the “Pen and Pencil” and she was enchanted by the unusual looking, pepper-grinder that sat on the table. Apparently, Mama oohed and aahed over that pepper-grinder until Ava finally said, “Just take it, Mari.”
For some reason, Mama was shy that night and couldn’t work up the courage to purloin the pepper-grinder, so Ava said something along the lines of, “Stop being silly, Mari!” With these words, Ava Gardner helped my mother out by picking up the pepper-grinder and shoving it into Mama’s handbag. The pepper-grinder was a little, green, square, wooden mill, like the old-fashioned kind for grinding coffee, and it said, “Pen and Pencil” on it in cursive writing. I know this because it was on our dinner table every night throughout my childhood.
But I digress…
The point is that I have a sort of vicarious nostalgia for the Dorchester Hotel because it was such a magical time and place for my parents, especially my mother. She talked about it for years – how elegant it was, the afternoon teas, blah, blah, blah. The Dorchester Hotel was basically branded into my brain from an early age. So I never go to London without stopping by for a visit.
In case you want to visit the Dorchester yourself, you can go there for afternoon tea or for an afternoon or evening cocktail or for a meal. When you do, make sure you bring lots of money!
One evening on my recent trip to London, I was feeling sad (please see blog post entitled “Missing Kew Gardens.”) After dinner, I decided to go the Dorchester for a drink.
The lobby is a Fairyland, and as long as a city block…
They always have beautiful arrangements of fresh, cut flowers…
Here’s the restaurant…
After I finish going crazy over the flowers, I sit at the bar, which is all the way at the end of the lobby. There’s always great conversation with the bartenders. I usually drink a special champagne cocktail, made with raspberry and litchi liqueur, but this time I had a glass of Bernard Bremont Grand Cru rose champagne, which is exclusive to the Dorchester. Chris, the bartender, gave me some fascinating information. He said the Dorchester sells between 150,000 and 200,000 bottles of champagne a year – at least 50 bottles every day! He also told me that Laurent-Perrier has never changed their champagne label in all the years they’ve been in business – until this year – and they did it to honor the Dorchester hotel. The label still looks the same, but at the bottom, it says, “The Dorchester hotel is celebrating their 80th Anniversary!” Pretty neat, huh?Chris and I agreed that, in terms of quality vs. price, champagne is way over-priced. He told me that he prefers Prosecco. I don’t, and I told him so, which he took as a challenge, and gave me half a glass of a top-shelf Prosecco. It actually tasted better than my champagne, although it didn’t have as many bubbles. I was very surprised.
We also talked about what a unique place the Dorchester is and how the people who work there are like a family. I can believe it. I ended up staying until closing. The other bartender, Sam, joined our conversation. Chris told him his sink was clogged up and that whoever was opening the bar in the morning was in for a nasty surprise. “That would be me,” said Sam. I laughed, because I worked for years as a bartender, so I could feel his pain.
The best part of my evening with Chris and Sam was that, when I told them I had been a bartender, too, they actually invited me behind the bar! This is a very great honor.
Me, behind the bar of the Dorchester Hotel, with my friend, Chris…
And here I am with my friend, Sam. I told him I would try to come back to visit him on his shift the following day, but sadly, I didn’t manage it.
Here’s who I hung out with instead of Sam. The concierge at the Thistle told me his favorite park in London was Holland Park, so I decided to check it out. Having missed Kew Gardens, I was in need of a little communion with nature.
I learned that it’s difficult to take a picture of a peacock with his tail fully fanned-out, because he’s so busy showing off that he doesn’t stand still for a second. This is as close as I got. It looks like his tail is defective but believe me, the only defect was with the photographer!
Here the peacock is telling me what he thinks of me. If you’re wondering why you can’t see his head, that would be because this is the other end…
Here’s something I’ve never seen before – squirrels and pigeons, playing together! Can you see through their camouflage?
This is Lord Holland, who gave his name to the park. This image brings to mind the expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” wouldn’t you say?