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Words: Emily Williams
I’m walking down the narrow back alley cobbles of Bankside, the sound of my steps ricocheting between the lofty warehouse walls like a pinball. I turn into a slender lane that meets the River Thames, and catch a glimpse of the ramparts through the sliver of unobstructed view.
Even at rush hour, all seems quiet and empty in these discreet side roads; I feel smug to have found a peaceful glade away from the hurried current of commuters. I admire the renovated factories soaring above me, each steeped with a secret history of its own.
Unbeknown to many, before the industrial era, this belt of land was once London’s go-to entertainment district, dotted with famous playhouses, brothels and bear-baiting arenas. Even today, the neighbourhood’s Tudor spirit lingers in the iconic replica of Shakespeare’s Globe, alluded to in the name of the address at which I have just arrived: One Bear Gardens.
Transfixed by the historical setting and the huge steel-framed windows, I almost pass my swish aparthotel residence for the night. The smart black plaque and pointed topiary trees marking the entrance to Native Bankside are disguised beneath a striking three-dimensional sign overhead that reads EMPIRE WAREHOUSE. I stride in through the bold medieval-looking door and disappear through the brick edifice as if it were Platform 9 ¾. Native Bankside’s success lies in its subtlety: this aparthotel is not trying to stand out; it artfully weaves itself into the city’s fabric.
So what is an aparthotel anyway? I’m intrigued by this rapidly growing hospitality trend that is transforming the way that we travel. It offers the quality and luxury of hotel services fused with the freedom of a self-contained apartment for both long and short-term stays. This includes convenient 24-hour check-in, washing machines, free high-speed Wi-Fi, a lounge/co-working space and a compact yet handy fitness suite.
‘We have guests who stay here for one night or months on end’ explains the welcoming receptionist at check in, and I can already see the appeal of the latter. I soak in the polished cement panels, the glossy leather corner sofa and the futuristic lightsaber ceiling lamps hovering like modern art installations. I’m impressed; time to settle in.
Gliding up to Level 2, the aesthetic hedonism continues in my Premium Studio apartment. I find myself making a mental list of decor ideas like I’m immersed in a tangible Pinterest board entitled ‘Urban Chic’. Exposed brick walls, a contemporary grey bathroom complete with Elemis skincare essentials, and characterful accent furniture, including a shell pink velvet headboard – dreamy.
It’s a trendy multi-functional living space with a fully equipped kitchenette, flat screen TV and an intimate dining table for two. The welcome information on the bedside table reminds me about their handy pantry, so I nip down to the first floor lounge area to find fresh milk, cereals and snacks displayed neatly in glass jars along the wooden counter. The travel size condiments and food staples mean that guests don’t need to bring wasteful hoards of bulky cooking supplies. I put the kettle on back in my apartment and ease into Native’s well-devised blend of hotel and home.
Fast forward to dinnertime and I’m strolling along Southbank in search of a place to eat. Within a few minutes I’m surrounded by the buzz of Friday night cocktail hour, where young professionals are winding down for the weekend, and the bars are spilling out onto the street. I even stumble across a ‘Tate Late’ on the last Friday of every month, where art exhibitions have extended hours and a rhythmic DJ set reverberates from the base of the gargantuan disused power station.
I feel totally submerged in the neighbourhood, where London’s eclectic mix of eateries and cultural attractions are right on my enviable new doorstep. For more inspiration, my apartment’s nifty Neighbourhood Guide and the informative staff had prepped me with useful pointers on what’s best to eat, drink and do. I’m already imagining the breakfast banquet at Borough Market tomorrow, situated just a stone’s throw away. Nothing is too far from Native.
It’s now the morning of day two and I’m feeling replenished and well rested from my stay at Native Bankside. There’s no doubt why the aparthotel experience is gaining popularity. First is the flexibility of its service. Guests can ask for help at all hours, or equally, they may prefer to be left to their own devices undisturbed. The second draw is its immersion in the local neighbourhood, helping you to feel both comfortable and connected to your destination. Native Bankside combines both of these strengths, all while reviving an archaic British tea factory. Without masking the past, Native catapults disused space into a stylish and innovative way to stay.
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