Part of the Autograph Collection - a group of boutique-style hotels pooled under the Marriott umbrella - The Dixon has breathed new life into the former Tower Bridge Magistrates Court and Police Station. Melding restored Edwardian period features and funky contemporary design, this snazzy hotel claims to capture "all the culture, creativity and variety of SE1, the world's most cultural postcode", a pocket of south-east London that includes the South Bank of the River Thames, and the likes of Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe and Borough Market.
The Dixon is tucked away on a side street, 200 metres south of Tower Bridge. You're a 10-minute walk from revamped London Bridge station, which is connected to the Underground and national rail, with regular trains to/from Gatwick airport and south-coast destinations like Brighton.
The hotel's name honours John Dixon Butler, the original architect of this 1905 Grade II-listed building. Beyond its elegant white stone and red-brick facade is a beautiful lobby adorned with antique mosaic flooring, oak wall panels, luxuriant plants and a grand staircase that sweeps to an upper level, from which drips a vast ceiling chandelier laden with glass handcuffs. Quirky art catches your eye throughout the hotel, including colourful photographs of famous former SE1 residents, Charlie Chaplin and George Orwell, and pieces made up of graffiti-scrawled benches plucked from the old police cells. The courtroom is now a fetching bar, with framed mug-shots of petty criminals clutching boards revealing their identities and misdemeanours (larceny was common back in the day). Drinks aren't a robbery here, mind. Most cocktails, including the gin-fuelled Tall Judge Martinez, are £12 ($22.50) - fairly typical for London. You can pump iron - and do cardio - at the basement gym. Wi-Fi is fast and free hotel-wide.
Some of the 193 rooms and suites are in the original building and have high ceilings and ornate Edwardian mouldings, but most, including my 26 square-metre executive room (608), are in a new-build extension out back and have a sober and functional look with bursts of flair and colour. Above my firm, comfy king-size bed is a bizarre picture of a bird on a wire perched above George Orwell with the top of his head removed. There are mustard-yellow velvet chairs by the window, and looking out over the converted warehouses and new developments towards the Thames, I spy the Tower of London across the river. Well-soundproofed, the room has generous wardrobe space, a smart wall TV, Nespresso machine, teas and infusions and a marble-clad bathroom with walk-in push-button shower, huge mirrors and Murdock London amenities.
The hotel's all-day restaurant, Provisioners, has incorporated some of the old prison fittings into its design, but has a retro-contemporary feel overall, with lots of natural light. Breakfast (including full English) is served here, while for lunch and dinner, you can choose options like West Country rib-eye steak, Kashmiri spiced corn-fed chicken breast and grilled salmon fillet with chilli crab tagliolini and langoustine bisque. There's a pre-theatre menu (daily, 5.30pm-7pm). Adjoining the restaurant is a cafe plying Shakedown coffee, the hotel's roasted in-house blend. Enjoy a flat white while listening to vintage tunes from the vinyl player and leafing through the coffee-table books (London: Portrait of a City is superb).
As well as the touristy riverside, and the excellent new Bridge Theatre, guests are within strolling distance of Bermondsey Street, which has more of a "local" London vibe and is lined with eclectic eateries and boutiques, plus the Fashion and Textile Museum and White Cube Gallery. Foodie hub Maltby Street Market is even closer, though it's only open Friday-Sunday. Decent pubs, like Anchor Tap and Dean Swift, dot the back-streets behind the hotel.
Cool and stylish, relaxed and informal, The Dixon is a pleasure in which to serve time, with boundless possibilities on the doorstep.
The lobby is a real stunner.
Roadworks out front - new cycle lanes are being installed for 2020 - make it tricky if arriving by taxi.
Steve McKenna was a guest of The Dixon and Visit Britain