wishlist: spitbank

Spitbank Fort

The English city of Portsmouth has been fortified since Henry VIII built Southsea Castle in 1544 to protect the entrance to the harbor. The Tudor monarch was well aware that the strategic naval port on the south coast of Hampshire was exposed to attack from the French, a consideration that also concerned Prime Minister Palmerston a few years later in the mid-nineteenth century. Across the Channel, a newly crowned Emperor Napoleon III had revenge for his uncle’s defeat at Waterloo on his mind, which caused the British Government to reassess their coastal defenses. The result: a ring of detached sea forts - Spitbank, Horse Sand and No Man’s Land – built on the Spithead shoals in case of French invasion. The irony is that the forts never saw any action in the defense of he city, landing them the nickname “Palmerston’s  Follies.” De-activated by the end of WW II, the forts have been privately owned since 1982, going through many guises until one of them – Spitbank – finally found its true calling as a luxurious hideaway hotel. Arrive in style from your own private yacht or let them pick you up from nearby Gosport in a water taxi. The first thing you’ll notice is how things have changed since 1867: the previous gun emplacements have been transformed into eight stunning bedroom suites with sea views. The rooftop’s been converted to highlight a hot pool, expansive sun decks, and a steam sauna – all of which look out to Portsmouth Harbor and the iconic glass Spinnaker Tower. Your biggest decisions are likely going to involve where to eat and what to drink, so start with some bubbly in the Victory Bar before moving on to local crab and ribeye in the historic arched, brickwork of the Officer’s Mess. How about digestifs round the fire pit, looking out over the Isle of Wight? If the breeze proves too strong, settle in for brandy and roulette (or poker) in the Crow’s Nest. Win or lose, there’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the waves. Take a room for a short break or – more to my liking – hire the fort out as your own private island, with your own private crew. There’ll be no need to worry about neighbors telling you to keep the noise down – until the other two forts go condo that is.

spitbank suite

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in waterclosets lie secret codes

Or not-so-secret as the case might be at Jones Wood Foundry, a new gastro pub on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where the bathroom walls are scrawled not with graffiti, but recipes for classic British comfort foods like Mulligatawny Soup and Sticky Toffee Pudding. It seems WC is now shorthand for What’s Cooking. What that means for Toad in the Hole, I can only imagine.

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charles dickens, theatrical

Charles Dickens was Britain’s first true literary superstar. In his time, he attracted international acclaim and adulation, while many of his books became instant classics. Today, his popularity continues unabated, and his work remains not only widely read but also widely adapted for stage and screen. Celebrating the bicentennial of the writer’s birth, The Morgan Library & Museum is taking pains to also reveal the polymath behind the fiction. Yes, the museum’s famous manuscript of A Christmas Carol is on display – & available to view online HERE – but more interesting are his exceptionally brilliant and entertaining letters, which track not only his work as a novelist but also his reading tours across the United States, his philanthropic pursuits, and his lesser-known experiments with mesmerism, a precursor to hypnotherapy. Of particular interest to me is the ephemera of Dickens’ theatrical pursuits. Together with playwright Wilkie Collins, Dickens produced amateur theatricals at Tavistock House, his family home. On display are a handful of leaflets promoting these evenings, advising the audience – largely made up of friends, members of Parliament, judges, and various government ministers – at what time their carriages home should be ordered, as well as God Save the Queen! Most amusing is a broadsheet for the Theatre Royal, Adelphi, promoting the only dramatic version of A Christmas Carol sanctioned by Dickens. It goes into great detail summarizing the events of the story before advertising the theater’s subsequent offerings. Lastly it offers a tease of what’s on the horizon: Anthony & Cleopatra, Married & Settled. I’d like to see Dickens tackle that one.

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windsor weekend: an-tea establishment

Ditch all the stuffy royal hoopla and embrace London’s punk rock history instead at the Metropolitan London. Through the beginning of May the Met Bar will be offering an “An-Tea Establishment” afternoon tea just in time to save you from monarchy overload – a quintessential British tea with a funky Metropolitan twist. Cheeky dishes include the “Quiche a la Fergie” along with reimagined classics like no-bread cucumber sandwiches. Rhubarb and custard cupcakes are topped with iconic slogans and images to capture the feeling of the era and if tea isn’t quite strong enough, try the Sex Pistol-inspired cocktail “God Save The Queen,” and do a little head banging to the punk rock playlist drifting from the speakers.  If you can spend the night, however, even better. The clean, modern design and Zen-like atmosphere at The Met are a distinctly new take on the classic British hotel experience – and there’s the bonus of everything you’d expect in a five-star hotel without any of the unnecessary fuss and pomp.  It’s an antidote to the city, overlooking Hyde Park.  Plus, I love a hotel where everything is monogrammed with my initials.

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windsor weekend: in the heart of mayfair

Privacy, understated service, and a refined English charm that’ll have you feeling like you’re in residence (rather than just another overnight guest) are a few of the reasons Brown’s Hotel makes the grade as one of my fashionable favorites.  It’s location, too, is ideal: tucked away on Albemarle Street in the heart of Mayfair, Brown’s is literally just a few steps from the bustle of Piccadilly, the chic boutiques of Bond Street, and the open spaces of Green Park.  Simple, stylish, it’s no wonder the hotel has enjoyed an insider following for over 170 years. No stranger to laying on the royal treatment, Brown’s is celebrating the wedding in suite style through June. Limo transfers from the airport, two nights in a suite, a behind-the-scenes tour at Asprey, the royal jewelers, full breakfast, royal afternoon tea, a map of royal points of interest tailor-made by the head concierge, champagne, royal treats, a leather photo album to record it all in pictures, and your very own William and Kate mug – all for a princely sum that starts at just $1390 for a junior suite.  At these prices even a commoner can enjoy a dose of pomp and circumstance.

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phoning it in

VisitBritain is celebrating the anniversary of one of the UK’s most iconic symbols by dialing up one ring-a-ding-ding of a sweepstakes:  they’re giving away a telephone box to the lucky person who can figure out what to do with it.

Tell them in 50-70 words what you would do with a 300-pound, 3′ X 3′ x 7.5′ replica British Telephone Box right HERE.  Whomever comes up with the most creative adaptive reuse will win one of their very own – with a cool $1,200 to customize it and bring your “fantasy phone box” to life.

I can’t wait to see the shortlist for this one.

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i heart british game shows

Speaking as a true aficionado, I can tell you that nothing beats a good British game show.  (Many a cold and rainy summer afternoon in Ireland has provided the crucial data in defending that thesis!) There’s no jackpot in the American sense of the word. There’s no promise of fame or fortune -  no free cars or living room sets for that matter either.  The prizes are minor; the money negligible.  The reward, however, is as addictive to the national character as all those endless pots of treacly tea.  It’s about the sport.  And the self-effacing bragging rights that come from publicly facing a challenge with a degree of grace under pressure – whether or not you ultimately end up with egg on your face.

Could you imagine an American game show where the winning team walked away with five dollars? Or even better, zero dollars – as often happens at the end of Bargain Hunt, one of my dirty little addictions? Doubtful.  The idea of winning without winning any thing just doesn’t mesh with the American character – to the victor deserves the spoils, man!

Here’s a clip from my favorite teatime distraction:  Countdown, an alternating series of math and word challenges.  It’s hosted by the Webster’s definition of “male chauvinist,” and relegates Carol Vorderman – supposedly possessed of the highest IQ in Britain – to the Vanna-inspired role of letter picker, when she’s not called upon to perform intricate mathematical calculations off the top of her head, that is.  What this clip makes abundantly clear:  grace under pressure is easier said than done.

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