Standing alone in the pouring rain while trying to find the entrance wasn’t the most auspicious beginning to a hotel escape. Mr Smith promised he'd be punctual – he wasn't; my phone said the sun would shine – it didn’t. And, I couldn't figure out which door to go through, given that the hotel's made up of a row of historic homes. Suddenly, one flings open and a welcoming blonde ushered me in to the dark-wood corridor.
A thousand things begged to be admired – paintings, books, a cat slinking around – and it was so warm and cosy that I was almost glad to have been caught in the rain first. The friendly pair checking me in gushed about how lovely my suite was with genuine glee, and 30 seconds later I was bounding up the stairs to the Rook’s Nest, my two-storey home for the night.
Back in the 18th century, were you to bed down in a rookery, you wouldn’t be sure to wake up. If you did, you’d most likely be minus your purse. For a ‘rookery’ or ‘stew’ was a city slum, its cramped tenements teeming with prowlers. Now, a night at the Rookery – that’s another story. Set in Clerkenwell – itself a former stew – the hotel is inspired by Georgian London. Rooms are named after some of EC1’s ribald characters of yore: Dr Dodd was a disgraced preacher; Jack Ketch an incompetent executioner; Sally Salisbury a prostitute hanged for murder. Guests can savour a potted account of these long-gone locals when they stay, and some rooms are decorated with original paintings of their former inhabitants.
To my not-so-nefarious Mr Smith, who was by now hot on my heels. A Californian, he finds London exotic even at its most pedestrian. Saucer eyes surveyed the Rook’s Nest, making his face worth immortalising in oils for a portrait befitting for the hotel’s motley collection. ‘Oh, most hotels in London are like this’, I fibbed, feigning indifference. Then he found a button that slides the centre of the ceiling back to reveal a spire stretching upwards. My gasp rather rumbled that perhaps this place is anything but your usual city stay.
We sprinted up our staircase – I love hotel suites with stairs – to find our living room with its antique desk, orchid-adorned coffee table, green leather bucket chairs and books stacked everywhere. Views of St Paul’s dome definitely outdo the one I have at home of my neighbour’s shed, and they sure impressed my Angeleno guest.
A ‘bathing machine’ downstairs was the next twist in our tale: if a black-and-white rolltop bath in the bedroom isn’t exciting enough, the Edwardian tub’s punctured-metal contraption showers you from all angles. Hilarious, particularly when you’re three inches from a life-size statue of a washing maiden clutching a cloth to her bosom. Half drowned, thoroughly amused, we next raided our mini-bars: he lounged on the gold-covered bed with Belgian chocolate–covered raisins and I munched my way through spiced peanuts one-handed while drying my hair.
Cedar Creek: A Tale of Canadian Life, one of the zillion assorted titles scattered around, proved remarkably engrossing for Mr Smith. He finally looked up from the peeling-cover hardback book to find me cross-legged in a towel on the floor photographing an anatomically correct whip-wielding cherub.
Tempting as it was to stay in, we made it downstairs to the Conservatory. We hadn’t discussed it, but I’m pretty sure by this point we were both pretending the Rookery was our house. The honesty bar did nothing to dispel our folie à deux: Mr Smith lounged on a settee contentedly admiring the green paisley curtains, while I played the dutiful Mrs and poured us some experimental cocktails. The Rookery doesn’t have a restaurant – but who cares when you have St John’s, Moro and Modern Pantry just around the corner? We dined a minute away at Vinoteca, followed by cocktails in the Zetter Townhouse’s lounge.
Drenched again, it was late when we made it back to our new home: we tiptoed through the corridors, giggling at the eccentric characters such as the beard-stroking man contemplating his chessboard. Back in our sumptuous suite, we dragged all three sets of heavy gold curtains closed and the true nature of the bedroom revealed itself in all its theatrical glory. By day, it’s a dark-walled womb; by night it’s an opulent stage set for performance: we opted for dramatic readings of books plucked at random from the shelves.
Hoarse from reading strange books in gin-fuelled silly voices, the huge bed beckoned. I don’t know if it was the cocktails, the bad acting or the rainy dash back from Clerkenwell, but once I’d bid goodnight to the gold-loin-cloth-clad blackamoors at the head of the four-poster, I’d barely mumbled ‘This bed is absurdly comfortable...’ before I’d fallen asleep.
Dawn’s light reflecting off the shiny bottoms of our cheery cherub bedmates was an eye-opening first sight of the day. Ordinarily I’m a massive fan of hotel black-out curtains, but in the Rook’s Nest I recommend leaving the curtains a tiny bit open: waking up in a really big room with sunlight sparkling on the myriad gilded surfaces is exciting. And, who wants to sleep until noon when you have booked breakfast in bed?
Our morning spread was delivered to our door precisely on time; I rashly volunteered to lug the weighty tray up to our lounge, doggedly determined to use every inch of our upstairs space even at the cost of a wrist-sprain. Perfectly executed bacon rolls took the edge off feeling forlorn about saying farewell to our characterful perch. But, as Mr Smith consoled, we’ll just have to return to these Dickensian digs to stay in the room that boasts a loo set in a wood-panelled confessional.