There’s a hint of Wonderland behind the Oddfellows hotel’s elegant 17th-century façade. Eccentric, charming, and whimsical, the secret garden and flamboyant maple-wood draw in the buzzy local Chester crowd, but you’ll want to stay for the dreamy comfort of the unusual rooms.
Get this when you book through us:
One cocktail each, of the guest's choice, on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability (charges vary depending on time). Earliest check-in is 3pm.
Double rooms from £89.10, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (£9 for Continental, £13.95 for full English, à la carte from £7).
The Oddfellows Hall now housing the hotel was once a member’s organisation for the misfits of society – hence the quirky interiors by Ken Roscoe, a local Cheshire interior designer and the driving force behind the hotel.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, Nespresso coffee maker, Roberts radio, iPod dock, minibar, Plantation toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
In restored Victorian Caldecott cottage, room 19 boasts a roll-top bath and lampshades decorated with the delicate work of Cestrian illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Overlooking the garden, the Douglas Duplex suite has a shuttered skylight above the freestanding bath on the mezzanine level – perfect for a long soak gazing at the stars.
Flat leather sandals for roaming the designer outlets; pick up a wispy blue silk dress to play Alice in the secret garden come cocktail hour.
The hotel has two vintage bicycles to hire free for countryside jaunts (a security deposit is required). The two-bedroom Caldecott Cottage is fully accessible to wheelchair users, as are the garden, bar and restaurant.
Welcome. Extra beds for children only (£35 a night) and cots (£17.50) can be added to the rooms; there’s a children’s menu with a breakfast option for £4.50 and mains for £5.
Ask for a table by the glass doors: they slide back in warm weather to create a space that’s half indoors, half out. You’ll get a great view of both the garden’s white picket fences and the trees inside the Restaurant (told you it was quirky).
Ladies needn’t worry about ruining heels on the garden’s astro-turf; shades are a must for cool drinks in the sun.
Cultivated is helmed by chef Elliot Hill, who has dreamed up a modern British menu of local, seasonal fare with a ‘no waste’ philosophy. Order sharing plates of goat cheese custard, torched mackerel and truffle-topped guinea fowl from the Odd Plate menu, or opt for traditional dinners of steak frites, burgers or fish and chips. Save room for a sweet treats, or skip right to decadent desserts at the vintage-inspired daily afternoon teas.
Take a seat at the potting-shed bar in the secret garden, or ask for one of its secluded heated booths. With its maple-wood bar, orange chesterfield sofa and painted bestiary on the walls, the Lounge Bar is a popular destination for well-heeled locals, and deservedly so: try the Aviation, a fresh blend of crème de violette and gin, or the Oddfellows V&Tea served in a dainty tea cup.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am (Sunday brunch is served until noon); light and classic bites are available until 9pm, afternoon tea’s from noon to 4pm, and Sunday lunch is from noon until 9pm.
Within Chester’s city walls, Oddfellows is minutes away from the lively boutiques and cafés of the city centre, and a short stroll to bucolic River Dee.
The nearest airport is Liverpool (a 40-minute drive away), but Manchester (45 minutes away by car) offers better links to the rest of the country and beyond.
It’s a 10-minute drive to Chester station, with links on Virgin, Arriva and Mersey Rail to London, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff.
Chester is easily accessible from the M53 and M56. There’s NCP parking on Pepper Street nearby, from £8.50 for hotel guests, paid on check-out.
It’s also possible to land a private jet or helicopter at Hawarden Airport, six miles away from Chester.
Worth getting out of bed for
Chester’s city centre is an idle stroll from Oddfellows hotel: take in the ancient city walls or discover the Chester Rows, picturesque mediaeval covered walkways now housing independent boutiques and cafés. Take a bet on the gee-gees (named after Chester mayor Henry Gee who first allowed the races in 1539) at bijou Chester racecourse, the oldest still in use in England and a mere canter away from the hotel. Further afield, bargain hunters can run amok at sprawling Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet or find inner peace in the stunning views of the Dee estuary at Ness Botanic Gardens.
For a memorable fine-dining experience, head to Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor – the majestic bread trolley alone is worth the splurge. Recently awarded a Michelin ‘Bib gourmand’, Joseph Benjamin is all about local and seasonal produce, with the likes of home-cured gravadlax or seared Cheshire calves’ livers on the menu. Next door, down a narrow cobbled lane, its little sister Porta serves Barcelona-worthy tapas.
Marmalade is a warm and inviting café serving classic sandwiches, home-made cakes, and the best scrambled eggs in town. End a walk along Chester’s Canal Quarter at Artichoke's bustling café, bar and bistro. The open kitchen serves tempting sandwiches and more substantial mains, as well as local real ales and sinful cakes.
Not to be confused with the Oddfellows’ Lounge Bar, Barlounge is a popular place to chill out over inventive cocktails and comfort staples. If you’re in the mood for a late night, make a beeline for Red Door’s deep chesterfield sofas, bookable booths and seemingly endless cocktail menu.
I’m relaxing on the sofa, messing around with my iPhone when I hear a shout from Mrs Smith on the top floor of our split-level suite.
‘I cannot believe you’ve done that.’ Uh-oh.
‘What have I done?’ I holler back. Feigning ignorance, I cast my eye towards the massive flatscreen.
‘You damn well know.’ I don’t… I don’t know at all. This romantic break to Chester is going to be ruined before it’s started; we’ve only been in Oddfellows for 30 minutes. There’s silence, then she descends the stairs and looks at me.
‘How the hell have you already managed to upload 37 Instagrams of this place?’ Phew.
‘What can I say? It’s just very Instagrammable.’ I smile sweetly. ‘I mean, just look at the place.’
Arriving at Oddfellows was somewhat dreamlike. After a short cab journey from the train station through the beautiful historic city of Chester, the elegant 17th-centry façade hadn’t been a huge surprise; but from the moment we’d ascended the steep staircase into Oddfellows it felt like we were falling down the rabbit hole.
The buzz from the sumptuous maple-wood Lounge Bar had instantly piqued our attention, but to reception we needed to go. Not to stand at a boring hotel desk, but to sit in fancy designer chairs (yes, I took photos of us in them); we admired the start of a parade of unique design touches. It’s flourishes like typewriters on the wall that make Oddfellows sparkle.
Formalities dealt with, we’re whisked through the secret garden bar to our room. Well, I imagine they’d hoped it had been whisking us; it slowed to a snail’s pace as I opened Instragram and started snapping some more. A life-size police line-up of animals comprises the wallpaper, unusual lights, antlers on the walls, a potting shed for a bar – this is the sort of place that redefines the word ‘quirky’ and has you instantly wanting to redecorate your own home.
I’m pretty positive that by the time we reached the room I’d said, ‘Oh! That’s cool’ at least 20 times. From the painting of an old-fashioned front door on top of the normal hotel-room door to mini-bar drawers labelled ‘eat me’, ‘drink me’ and ‘use me’. Think of Oddfellows as the theatrical and flamboyant lovechild of Tim Burton and Soho House.
There are no identikit rooms; some even have round beds if you’re feeling a little Austin Powers. With suites inspired by the likes of architect John Douglas (he who designed Chester’s landmark Eastgate Clock), Lawrence of Arabia cinematographer Peter Newbrook, and illustrator-humourist Randolph Caldecott, the rooms ooze eccentricity, in our case this is manifested in graffiti and doodle-cool wall covering, a travelling-trunk table and a bedside roll-top bath. Substance triumphs along with style though, and soon the soft bedding devours us whole and we lie back and admire how well thought-out this double-height room is in order to exploit all available space. Isn’t that the kind of thing you admire while in bed?
By morning, a hanging breakfast bag of fruit and pastries has found its way onto our doorknob. The in-room Nespresso machine hardly finishes pumping out coffee before Mrs Smith drags me out to help her do what she does best…. Con me into thinking we’re off out to explore a city when we’re actually going shopping…
The higgledy-piggledy split-level streets of Chester are charming and beautiful with their magnificent Gothic cathedral in the middle. And, as a Londoner, the friendliness of the locals is a constant delight; all so chatty and lovely, they make us southerners feel right at home. A short taxi journey later and we’re at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet mall, home to the sort of bargains that mean Mrs Smith feels compelled to buy twice as much. On the way back our cab driver tells us how buzzing Chester is on a Saturday night as folks from Liverpool and nearby Wales descend, creating a glamorous party of convivial visitors. He points out the famous three-sided clocktower. ‘Why’s one face missing?’ I ask. ‘Oh it’s because they wouldn’t give Wales the time of day!’ he chuckles.
Come evening, our cabbie is proven right; Chester adopts a slick of glamour care of young socialites and glitzy couples. Meanwhile, instead of going glam ourselves with a whirl in Oddfellow’s casual-cool restaurant helmed by Michelin-star chef Simon Radley, we indulge our love of American-style barbecue food at the riverside Hickory’s Smokehouse. We fill our bellies with pulled pork and burnt ends served out of retro mess tins and platter boards until we can eat no more. However, Chester has other plans. We find ourselves in the fashionable Bar Lounge (not to be confused with Oddfellows own Lounge Bar), where we enjoy first-class cocktails on its bustling outdoor terrace until eventually it’s time to tackle the cobbled streets back to Oddfellows.
Resisting a nightcap, and a little under the influence, we stumble into the restored Victoria Caldecott Cottage which houses our room. From the window, I survey the party that is truly alive in the astroturfed Secret Garden below. Just like the hotel, it is a beautiful mess of design and style that reeks of well, awesomeness. Oh – if you speak to that Mad Hatter and he happens to be in need of a hotel recommendation for after his tea party, be sure to steer him straight to this wonderland.