The Savoy Theatre shares its name and location with the Savoy Hotel, now dubbed “London’s most famous hotel”. Whilst the hotel is renowned world-wide, few people know that the hotel would not have existed without its successful theatrical sister. The theatre was built in 1881 by impressario, Richard D’Oyly Carte, and hosted a string of hit operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan, most notably The Mikado. Eager to capitalise on the theatre’s prime location on the Strand and impressed by the decadent hotels he stayed in during his trips to America, Carte took the profits from the Savoy Theatre and used them to build the Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1889.
Carte sought to create London’s first luxury hotel, and chose to include the latest technological advancements in the hotel’s design. The Savoy Theatre was the world’s first public building to be lit by electricity, and this also became a feature of the hotel. Other amenities guests of the hotel could expect included private en-suite marble bathrooms, hot and cold water taps in each room, and an electric lift, all revolutionary for the day. Carte appointed Cesar Ritz as first manager of the hotel; he later founded the famous Ritz Hotel in Green Park in 1906.
The Savoy Hotel quickly became renowned for its glamorous and glitzy parties and dances, with only the rich and famous in attendance. Guests hosting parties at the hotel tried to outdo each other, often with outlandish results. In 1905, American millionaire, George Kessler, hosted a “Gondola party”, at which the hotel’s central courtyard was flooded and filled with gondolas, and the hotel’s staff were dressed in Italian garb. At the end of the evening, a five-foot tall birthday cake was carried in on a baby elephant.
The hotel has remained the place to be seen in London throughout the twentieth century and into the next. Claude Monet and James Whistler painted views of London from their rooms in the hotel. It featured prominently in Oscar Wilde’s trial for gross indecency, as it was the location of his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Winston Churchill regularly dined there with his cabinet, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh met there, and as he was being carried from the hotel in a stretcher shortly before his death, Richard Harris reportedly declared to other diners, ‘It was the food!’ Other famous guests have included Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, Harry S. Truman, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Coco Chanel, Marlon Brando, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Elton John, The Who, U2, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Staff at the hotel reportedly keep details on their guests’ preferences, ensuring that their rooms are prepared exactly to their customers’ specifications in advance. The Savoy Hotel remains renowned for being the height of luxury and glamour.