Just three rooms (so nearly all the attention is on you), an impressive dedication to design (hello, crystal bath tubs, Italian craftsmanship and pop-surrealist artwork), and elevated wining and dining: we want to be in The Vices’s squad. This adults-only York hideaway was a police station and home to the East Riding Constabulary in Victorian times but these days it’s more captivating than captive – the guests are certainly less insalubrious and far more discerning these days, although, you might use a pair of handcuffs for something a little different here. It has a thick Yorkshire accent, but the Milanese co-owner is ebulliently obsessed with wine and the seven-course tasting menu could start with Douglas-fir-flavoured Italian cheese and end with Japanese whisky fudge. It would be a crime to stay anywhere else, so lock us up and throw away the key…
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-in is from Wednesday to Saturday from 3pm.
Double rooms from £400.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates always include a breakfast of pastries, breads, sweet treats and hot drinks, plus there’ll be fresh flowers and fruit in your room.
The hotel’s very accommodating: they’ll have your favourite music playing on arrival, a bubble bath drawn, a beloved book on the table or an evocative fragrance spritzed through your suite on request.
At the hotel
Wine shop, lounge, concierge, umbrellas to borrow, laundry service, free WiFi. In rooms: iPad with a room-control system, underfloor heating, sound-system, pod coffee machine and tea-making kit, Frette bathrobes, slippers, air-purifier, free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
Well, there are only three to choose from, and they all have something special, plus spa-quality Aquaelite showers, minibars stocked with excellent wines and fresh flowers and fruit to welcome you. Do you want to luxuriate with your lover in a Japanese-style circular tub? Cosy up on a giant brass bed? Or feel like you’re slumbering on a floating cloud? All are possible, so follow your heart.
There’s no spa, but the Vices is all about pleasure, so in-suite pampering can be arranged at your whim.
Most people come to the venerable city to eat a Yorkshire pud as big as their head or get their chops around a Fat Rascal (for the uninitiated: it’s a bun with a disconcerting almond grimace). But, the Vices’ tastes are a little more refined – you might return with a 100-year-aged bottle of Giuseppe Giusti balsamic vinegar, which comes in its own wooden case with a hand-blown pipette, and has 24-carat gold labelling; or maybe a bottle of Tenute Emera Anima di Negroamaro Lizzano 2017. There’s an unimpeachable array of artworks too, with pieces by neo-surrealists Junko Mizuno and Camille Rose Garcia, and ethereal portraits by Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen.
Inclusive to the core, polyamorous relationships are welcomed at the hotel – just let them know in advance and they’ll triple the extras in your suite. All have super-king-size beds large enough for three to cosily share.
Over-12s can dine in Allium, but as the name suggests, the Vices lends itself more to naughty niceness.
If you sit in the dining room (which fits eight guests), you can watch the chefs work their magic in the open kitchen, so try to get up close and personal. The Wine Library is a little more intimate, with space for six.
When it comes to culinary conceptualism, highly skilled chef Luke Sanderson lives on the edge. His six-course tasting menu (there’s no à la carte) dabbles in the curious, with dishes such as squirrel fritters with beetroot purée, scallops with a juniper mayo and rosehip and lemon crisp, and rhubarb saba panna cotta with red-veined sorrel. Meals are served from Wednesday to Saturday, from 7pm (so guests enjoy a communal experience).
Intoxication is encouraged here, after all there’s a cocktail bar with a range of classic mixed drinks (plus Scottish whiskies, Japanese sakes and other niche spirits), and a Wine Library: a boutique and tasting space where Italian co-owner and sommelier Daniel Curro has curated very fine and rare wines from largely Italian cellars. Oenophiles have the edge here – Curro’s passion is palpable, he knows his way around a Coravin needle, and his nose is impeccable. We suggest booking a tasting in the Wine Library, where he’ll offer insight and pique your palate.
Breakfast is from 8am (earlier on request). Allium is open from Wednesday to Saturday and the tasting menu starts at 7pm.
Breakfast can be taken in-room from 8am to 10am; dinner can only be booked in the Third Suite from 7pm; and drinks can be ordered from 8am till late.
The Vices’ redbrick really pops on its quiet residential street, among the other grey-brick houses on Alma Terrace. Clifford’s Tower and Jorvik are a 15-minute walk away, while the Minster is a little further (around a 30-minute stroll).
Doncaster Sheffield Airport, an hour’s drive away, is the closest international hub, with flights arriving from big cities in Central and Eastern Europe. For further-flung direct routes, touchdown in Manchester, a 90-minute drive away. And, if you’re arriving in London, Stansted and Luton are the closest, both just over a three-hour drive.
York Station is just a 10-minute drive away, or a leisurely 30-minute stroll through the city centre, Rowntree Park and over the Ouse. The hotel can send a chauffeured car to pick you up if you wish.
You’re unlikely to need a car in York, it’s compelling and compact with ancient treasures to stumble upon around every corner and narrow throughways like the Shambles which you couldn’t squeeze a car down if you tried. But, a car will come in handy if you want to escape into the green expanses of the Dales or Moors to the north; there's a guaranteed parking space for guests in the Third Suite, but other spaces are limited, so it's strongly advised that you book in advance.
Worth getting out of bed for
The area surrounding the Vices is largely residential, so it’s not ideal for first-timers who want to step straight out into the city, but it does offer plenty of peace and quiet. Cross over the Millennium Bridge and you’ll come to Rowntree Park where there are tennis courts, a skatepark and other fresh-air fun to be had. But, to get to the meat of this multi-layered city, head north, meandering up the Ouse past 19th-century Pikeing Well (York’s attempt at becoming a spa city) and 15th-century Fishergate Postern Tower until you reach 11th-century Clifford’s Tower (formerly the keep of York Castle) – that’s nearly 1,000 years of history in a 15-minute walk and you’ve only just started to scratch the surface. Along Coppergate you can learn about the Viking invasion (and play archaeologist) at Jorvik, Fairfax House harks back to York’s Georgian gentility, the Merchant Adventurers' Hall is a finely timbered mediaeval monument, the souvenir-shop-lined Shambles is overhung with 14th-century houses and between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar you can see what’s left of the Roman fortifications. And finally, the Treasurer’s House packs it all into one with Roman foundations topped with a 17th-century residence that was refined in the Victorian times. Historians go hard here. If you get lost, look for the Minster, whose Gothic spires and elaborate stained glasses loom large in the city. If you’re starting to feel a little stuck in the past, take a breather (and a picnic) at flower-strewn Breezy Knees Garden or down a few pints after a tour of punnily named Brew York. Indie Darlings catch niche and foreign films at City Screen and the York Barbican has a packed programme of live music and comedy. Are you looking to give your credit card a work-out? A 15-minute drive south of the hotel is designer outlet McArthur Glen, with hundreds of designer and high-street stores to flex some plastic in. Or DOP it like it’s hot back at the hotel, where co-owner, skilled sommelier and avid wine collector Daniel Curro can set up a tasting through rare wines.
All around the walled city is moorland, rippling dales, and fertile farmland, and it’s not all that far from the coast, so fresh sustainable ingredients are a no-brainer. This leaves chefs plenty of room to play and menus in York’s more modern restaurants do dabble in culinary experimentation. Skosh is all over the place, but in a good way, dishing up cold-stream trout with jalapeño and apple, beetroot with basil ricotta and green tea, and tandoori partridge with smoked ear, and lime and vanilla ‘slaw. Le Cochon Aveugle is French, but with a well-stamped passport. The menu has stridently Gallic boudin noir macarons, brown-crab bisque and canelés, alongside Kumamoto oysters with lemon ice, Orkney scallops in sea-urchin butter and English cherries cooked in fig leaves.
If you can stomach the queue, Bettys is an institution for its Fat Rascal buns, rostis, enormous selection of teas and staff in traditional uniform. For brunch, Partisan’s Persian eggs (with soft spinach, Medjool dates, yoghurt and almond dukkah) are a thing of beauty, as is their French toast and ‘nduja-punched ‘eggs in purgatory’. And, it’s all served in a cute cosy space.
We’d stop off for a pint in the House of Trembling Madness (46 Stonegate) based on the name alone, but it’s also a convivial place with a long history (it was first a Norman house in the 12th century, intact beams, taxidermy-studded walls and a cosiness that encourages socialising. Their beer selection is larger than it seems, so if there’s something off-piste you’re craving, just ask the staff. If you’re still on the wine, Pairings has fanciful flights for all tastes, including picks of rare and aged wines, and as the name promises, they have luxurious laden platters to match.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this lawfully good prison-turned-private-house hotel just outside York’s centre and unpacked their bags of locally made fudge and their Brut Rosé Traditional Method from Trentino, a full account of their foray into decadent pleasures will be with you. In the meantime, let’s go from clink to fine Italian drink at the Vices York…
Like that first sip of wine after a long day, new hideaway the Vices York celebrates a little naughtiness without a slap on the wrist. Fittingly, the redbrick was a prison in Victorian times and you can still see the original cells, but accommodations have been upgraded somewhat since then. The three suites are hung with artwork by the coolest of pop-surrealists (Junko Mizuno, Camille Rose Garcia, Marco Mazzoni), have amber-crystal or jewel-studded circular bath tubs, state-of-the-art shower systems, and super-king-size beds which could easily sleep three, and sometimes do – the Vices makes space for throuples. Get drunk (but not too disorderly) in the on-site wine shop, or in the Wine Library tasting room, or the cocktail bar; get involved in the flavourful affray of Allium restaurant’s sinfully good tasting menu, where the likes of scallops with juniper mayonnaise and rose hips or squirrel with beetroot purée could jump into the melee. Then retire to your suite – accommodation has been much improved since the days of staying here at Her Majesty’s pleasure; we highly doubt they had knot-hitting Aqueaelite shower systems, Frette bathrobes and furnishings curated to a deelightful standard back in the day. All together, it’s a handsome and cosseting space for indulging a few vices…