There’s a legend surrounding Bill Kimpton.
Kimpton, founder and chairman of the global boutique hotel chain bearing his name, would go into the bars of his hotels, order a drink, and chat to the guests.
Or he’d stand by the hotel’s entrance, glass of wine in hand, and say to entering guests, ‘Welcome to our hotel’. He was also a keen meditator before it was cool. He believed that ‘A hotel should relieve travelers of their insecurity and loneliness. It should make them feel warm and cosy’
Bill Kimpton died in 2001, but his unique approach lives on in his hotels. Not least at the Kimpton Fitzroy in London’s Russell Sq, where a pioneering new concept – Stay Human – is keeping Kimpton’s spirit alive and well in a surprising way.
Words: Chris Zacharia
#StayHuman would make Bill Kimpton proud. It’s an international project across four Kimpton hotels attempting to encourage meaningful relationships between guests, their host city, and the hotel itself.
At the Fitzroy, the #StayHuman room is dominated by a huge ‘Fill the Gap’ message board. Inverting London’s infamous ‘Mind the Gap’ safety message, we’re asked to help fill the space on the board with photos, notes and messages, slowly making the room feel more personal.
‘Have you ever slept in a marshmallow? I have now :)’ reads a message from Gina (to be fair, the bed is unbelievably soft).
‘If you like books, Bloomsbury is the best place in London to be!’ reads one note, from Jessica. The Fitzroy’s #StayHuman room acknowledges the surrounding neighbourhood’s literary heritage with a magnificent Olivetti typewriter. It sits on a writing desk overlooking the alleyways and footpaths of Bloomsbury below.
There’s also a guestbook. Flicking through the messages of previous guests makes you aware of the small but undeniable bond between you and those who’ve chosen to stay here before.
Best of all is a Polaroid Snap camera. Printing photos within sixty seconds, it’s sitting there like a new toy on Christmas day, just begging to be played with. We take a few snaps straightaway, before the room gets ruined. And just to give you a jazzy backdrop for your selfie, ‘#StayHuman’ is written in cursive on the wall in neon light.
It’s hard to think of a hotel experience that’s this interactive. After printing off our first photos and sticking them on the wall, I can’t help but feel like I’m communicating with both the previous guests and those still to come. We decide to expand on Jessica’s tip about books in Bloomsbury, adding a couple of my favourite second hand bookshops and writer’s cafes.
It makes sense that Kimpton are helping their guests forge stronger connections. According to an independent survey of over 7,000 travellers commissioned by InterContinental Hotels, travellers are craving a deeper connection with the places they visit. And almost 60% say that they believe that tourists are missing out on the best of their city when they come to visit.
They want to experience the sounds, sights, tastes and smells of a destination. Arming them with a Polaroid camera is one way to do it.
As nice as the room is, the hotel itself is even nicer. A full-blown, 19th century explosion of opulence, every hallway is a glittering starscape of gold, gilt-edge and marble. Wherever you happen to look, there’s a beautiful touch of loving detail awaiting you. Look down, there’s a mosaic of the zodiac beneath your feet. Look up, there’s a stencilled ceiling above an art deco chandelier. It’s worth staying here for the lobby alone.
Fitz’s, the Fitzroy’s sleek and stylish cocktail bar, takes the fin de siècle luxuriousness and bathes it in pure jazz age splendour. So well has Fitz’s been brought to life, that you barely need conversation. Sitting here with a negroni and an open-mouthed gaze of admiration would be pleasant enough.
Further down the marble tiled hallway is Neptune, the restaurant. Seafood by way of art nouveau, featuring vaulted ceilings, hanging vines and vast tufts of ice stacked with oysters. We sit in the middle of the bar’s crescent, enjoying the atmosphere.
There’s a middle-aged man next to me. In the spirit of Stay Human, I decide to break the ice.
‘No doubt, this is a beaut of a hotel’ he smiles. His name’s Jay. Turns out he’s here on a business trip, but his colleagues were too tired after the flight to come down for dinner.
‘I said, to hell with jetlag! This hotel’s too damn nice to stay in my room. I’m going down for dinner’
What about the local area, Bloomsbury? Is he planning on exploring?
‘I don’t know much about it’ Jay confesses. ‘You got any locals’ tips?’
As I explain my favourite places in the area, a woman sitting on the far side of the bar interrupts.
‘Excuse me, but are you talking about Bloomsbury?’ she asks, in an American accent. Rachel, it transpires, is here with her daughter Becky. They’re literature lovers, come to explore the area.
‘I had no idea about any of this!’ Jay muses over our talking about Virginia Woolf.
Even a small slice of social connection can help to satisfy our need for company. I’ve always preferred hostels to hotels. Despite the noise, bunk beds, the lack of security which makes you sleep with your wallet under your pillow, you’re so much more likely to make friends and memories in their cramped, convivial dormitories than in hotels.
A noticeboard, a polaroid, a guestbook: they’re small things, but they can help to transform an anonymous hotel experience where the only words you say are ‘please’ and ‘thanks’ and ‘floor six’, into something richer and more humane.
I can’t be sure, but something tells me that Bill Kimpton would have liked the Fitzroy’s Stay Human room.
Kimpton’s #StayHuman project offers exclusive themed guest rooms at four participating hotels
Book your stay at the Kimpton Fitzroy now