January 28, 2008
'Liverpool's Beatles hotel should stick to the music'
Nick Wyke's sneak preview of the Hard Days Night Hotel, set to open this Friday, revealed dodgy artwork and kitsch interiors
Hard Days Night Hotel
It feels like a long way up from the nearby basement of the Cavern Club to the steel and glass penthouse extensions that sit above the new Hard Days Night Hotel in Liverpool. When the Beatles were playing locally back in 1961 they would never have dreamt of such lofty decadence.
Housed in the magnificent Grade II listed Central Buildings, built in 1884 in North John Street, this is the icing on the cake of another temple - an entire block, in fact - to the city’s favourite sons, which is finally due to open ten years and more than £20 million after its owners first had the idea.
From the £650-a-night Lennon and McCartney suites on the fifth and sixth floors, respectively, of the “world’s first” Beatles-themed hotel, you can survey the rooftops and cranes of central Liverpool and its swanky not-yet-finished £1 billion Liverpool One retail project.
The Lennon room comes with white baby grand piano, while upstairs the showpiece in Sir Macca’s suite is a knight’s suit of armour (a nod to his knighthood).
* Liverpool, a complete guide
When the doors open on February 1 guests will be greeted by four statues of the Beatles over the cathedral-like arched main door. A gold banister lined staircase leads up to the Brasserie and reception, where hundreds of sheets of Beatles’ music hang from the ceiling and a frieze of black and white stills of the Fab Four runs like a film reel across the top of the entrance wall.
The lobby’s star feature, however, is a bright Yellow Submarine jukebox, apparently one of only 1,000 in existence. And, you’ve guessed it, Beatles music plays night and day throughout the hotel.
The hotel’s feature restaurant Blakes (named after Sir Peter Blake, who designed the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album) looks a promising space, with its dark wood interior, vast windows and giant white lampshades spawning big clear bulbs. The restaurant management team, who hail from Claridges and Kensington Place in London, will be overseen by images of everyone on the cover of the groundbreaking LP while serving “modern British and local, seasonal food” to 80 covers.
The marketing team describe the 110-room four-star hotel as “boutique” but it lacks the intimacy and truly original touches to be classified as such. In the rooms you can watch Beatles films piped directly on to a flat-screen TV while lounging beneath artwork by Beatles artist Shannon, whose work is mediocre at best. Other artworks, acquired from Lennon’s relatives and Mike McCartney (Paul’s brother), are scattered around the hotel.
“The key thing is the art work,” said Neil Sankey, the marketing manager, during a sneak preview. Hmm, perhaps they should concentrate on the music.
The hotel has some nice touches. It claims to be the only hotel in Liverpool where each of the three concierges hold the “key to the city”, meaning they are brimming with useful local knowledge. The sweeping ornate staircase has been restored and is punctuated by polished marble pillars. It encloses a half-moon underlit glass lift still in its original shaft. And maintenance is informed instantly by email when a bulb blows anywhere in the building.
Downstairs, though, is a bit of a write off. An underground conference room with swirling brown Seventies’ style carpet sits in a dead end beyond the token Buddha-themed Hari’s Bar, a bow to the Beatles trippy Indian spell, decked out with the sort of artefacts commonly found at kitsch spas and clad in hideously expensive £1,000-a-roll silk wallpaper.
“It’s the sort of private place we can shut off for exclusive celebrity use,” said Sankey. Grand - very egalitarian and community spirited in the best Liverpool tradition. Not.
Next door is a claustrophobic “wedding chapel” - an airless mirrored room accessed only by a highly impractical spiral staircase. Mike Dewey, the hotel’s general manager, said: “The chapel is called the Two of Us, named after a Beatles track. The only other star with enough global appeal to have a chapel is Elvis Presley.”
Sadly, even the Wall of Fame, where celebrities have been captured in home-style snapshots holding their favourite Beatles album, is a nice idea poorly executed. Guests will, though, enjoy spotting the stars (Elton John, Bryan Ferry and Tom Jones among them) and it might spark a favourite Beatles album conversation back in Blakes.
All that said, I’ve not slept there and I’ve not eaten there. Many of the mostly locally recruited 118 strong staff team that I ran into seemed young, smart and ready to add a Scouse spark to the whole PR veneer of the launch experience.
“Every time a Beatles record is played anywhere in the world it’s selling Liverpool for us,” says Dave Jones, owner of the Cavern Club, where Brian Epstein first heard the Beatles play in 1961. The same “publicity by default” applies to the global broadcast of Liverpool’s football matches.
* Liverpool, a complete guide
As well as the Cavern Club (a rebuild of the original) and the Magical Mystery Tour, which takes in song sites such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, the Beatles Story visitor attraction at Albert Dock has an audio tour narrated by Lennon’s sister Julia and is soon to double in size. Fans can also visit the childhood homes of McCartney and Lennon - the duo wrote Please, Please Me in Lennon’s bedroom at Mendips - meticulously kitted out by the National Trust in 1950s’ decor.
“The music scene is a huge deal for Americans in particular,” says Kris Donaldson, the Californian chief executive of the Culture Company overseeing the events of Liverpool08. “The Beatles appeal to all generations and to see the houses where John and Paul grew up and wrote their first songs is akin to visiting Graceland for some tourists.”
Visitors like the Chinese party from Liverpool’s twin city Shanghai who were recently taken to the Beatles Story only to ask “who the hell are these mop tops?” will presumably check into the Marriott or the excellent Malmaison. Beatles fans, though, and there’s no shortage of them (the city’s tourist office claims that more than half a million people a year come to Liverpool because of the Fab Four), will no doubt love it... or hate it.
Need to know: Hard Days Night Hotel, North John Street, Liverpool (0151 236 1964; www.harddaysnighthotel.com
) Opening weekend packages start from £460 for two people sharing a luxury room for two nights and include champagne, dinner and a Beatles tribute band.
For more information: www.visitliverpool.com; www.liverpool08.com
Liverpool hotels and restaurants
Stay at the hip Hope Street Hotel (0151 709 3000; www.hopestreethotel.co.uk;
doubles from £140) and eat at its restaurant the London Carriage Works where chef Paul Askew picks up ingredients specially grown for him from a farm garden on his way into work. Other excellent places to repast on the same cobbled Georgian street include the bistro-like Side Door (0151 707 7888) and 60 Hope Street (0151 707 6060; www.60hopestreet.com
), which serves confident modern european cuisine on a seasonal menu.
The purpose-built but elegant Malmasion (0845 365 4247; www.malmaison-liverpool.com
) has a waterfront location that catches the sunset and is close to the business district. The “Mersy Mal” has soccer suites named the Kop and the Toffee Shop, dedicated to Liverpool’s two great football clubs and huge murals of the Beatles in the lobby and the brasserie. Rooms from £99.
The boutique interior of 62 Castle Street (0151-702 7898, www.castlest.com
) contrasts with the Grade II-listed Victorian exterior. Twenty individually designed bedroom suites, with all mod-cons from £145 a night.
For an arty, off-beat alternative try one of the 12 individually decorated rooms at Parr Street Studios (0151 707 1050), where the likes of Coldplay and the Spice Girls have recorded material. Beds are NASA inspired memory mattresses and décor warm boho-chic. Weekend rates from £88 per night per double room.
Events for Liverpool in 2008
April 3: John Smith’s Grand National steeplechase at Aintree.
* Liverpool, a complete guide
May 30: Tate Liverpool hosts the UK’s first major exhibition of Gustav Klimt.
June 1: Liverpool Sound concert at Anfield starring Sir Paul McCartney.
Early July: The finish of the 2007/2008 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – the world’s longest yacht race.
July 11: The spectacular start of the 2008 Tall Ships’ Races.
July 17-20 : The Open Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale, near Southport.
September 20- Nov 30: The fifth Liverpool Biennial – the UK’s largest international festival of contemporary art.
September: The homecoming of renowned conductor Sir Simon Rattle to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
November: MTV music awards at the new Echo Arena.