The 92-room Vintry & Mercer provides a boutique alternative to the chain hotels of the City of London, the historic and financial heart of the British capital known as the Square Mile. The hotel's name is a nod to the ancient trading guilds that thrived locally, the Vintry ward being the centre for London wine merchants and Mercer for noble textile traders.
The hotel is squirrelled down a cobblestone lane off Cannon Street between the Monument to the Great Fire of London and St Paul's Cathedral. Mansion House Tube station (for Circle and District line trains) is a stone's throw away and you're about five minutes on foot from the Bank of England and the River Thames. The city bustles on weekdays, but is comparatively deserted at weekends, with many local watering holes and eateries closed.
Travel, commerce and London's rich history inspire the hotel's decor, while lush plants are an attractive feature, too. A bust of Queen Victoria, masted ships in bottles and antique globes decorate a cabinet of curiosities in the lobby. Corridor walls carry quotes from Christopher Wren - architect of St Paul's - alongside illustrations relating to the wine and textile businesses. A collage of vintage suitcases catches the eye in the basement, which has a small gym, meeting rooms (notably the Georgian town-house-style Library) and a speakeasy style bar, DND (Do Not Disturb), where patrons cosy up on velvet chairs and leather banquettes to enjoy barrel-aged cocktails and other tipples.
All rooms - from Standard Doubles to Studio Suites with external terraces - are individually designed, but share similar characteristics: bespoke velvet cushions and colourful headboards, wallpaper depicting bygone navigation maps and palm leaves, and bed-side USB hubs and smart touch-button lighting. Our Deluxe Double has a king-size bed, desk, wardrobe, two plush chairs, a wall TV and shelves with ornaments and books about London, architecture, fashion and photography. There's a Nespresso machine and mini-bar with complimentary snacks and soft drinks. The bathroom is spacious with striking teal-tiled walls, a heated floor, bath-shower, robes and amenities from C.O. Bigelow Apothecary.
Ceiling fans spin at the hotel's all-day ground-floor eatery, which in the evenings doubles as Vintry Izakaya. Come for Asian tapas, with a strong Japanese influence, and wine from both bottle and barrel. At the seventh-floor Mercer restaurant, The Shard and St Paul's are visible from the al fresco terrace (which has igloos and domes in winter). The cuisine is modern British and, overall, rather good. I enjoy Orkney scallops with roasted corn puree and sea vegetables, then fillet of 45-day dry-aged organic beef, bearnaise sauce and triple-cooked chips. My partner has octopus terrine, Cornish monkfish with spicy aubergine and curry sauce, and we share a huge apple tart. Expect to shell out £100 ($187)- £150 for a three-course dinner for two, with wine - although weekday lunch menus are priced from £29.50 a person.
Explore the warren of narrow alleys north of Cannon Street (just west of St Paul's). As well as charming old pubs, you'll find the church of St Mary-le-Bow. Tradition has it that anyone born within earshot of the ringing bells can count themselves a true Cockney. South of the hotel, cross the Thames on the Southwark Bridge to reach Shakespeare's Globe, Tate Modern and Borough Market.
Vintry & Mercer is stylish and discreet, and has the retro-contemporary vibe down to a tee. It's also blissfully quiet considering its central City location.
The greenery and attention to detail in the public spaces. Check out the vintage dials above the lift doors.
Some guests may find standard rooms too cramped. And not every room has impressive London vistas. From ours (room 607), we overlook a narrow interior passage. On the plus side, we don't hear a sound - traffic or otherwise.
Steve McKenna was a guest of Vintry & Mercer