The lobby of the Ace Hotel is humming with life and it’s only 5pm. The long, library-style table – commissioned for the space from Terence Conran’s Benchmark – is crowded with people drinking Square Mile coffee and tapping away on Mac laptops. There is a photo booth in one corner. In another, is the place where guests can arrange to borrow custom-made fixie bikes.
The atmosphere is relaxed, cool and only mildly self-conscious. You wouldn’t guess that only two months after its September opening, the founder of Ace Hotels, Alex Calderwood, died here.
The pall, if it exists, is light. Which is just as the Ace’s management would presumably want it. This is the group’s first outpost in Europe – the others are confined to the Americas: New York, Palm Springs, Seattle, Portland, LA and an offshoot in Panama City – and part of a long-planned series of new openings. The next looks likely to be in Pittsburgh. If this failed, it would bode ill for a burgeoning brand. But that seems unlikely. Why? Because it has that rare thing for a chain: an admirable sense of place. It fits the area, like a bespoke suit.
Shoreditch at night may now owe more in character to the buttoned-up City of London down the road, but by day the young creatives still dominate: and this place admirably caters to their wants. There is the chic, all-day modern British restaurant, Hoi Polloi, which is run by the guys from Bistrotheque and Shrimpy’s – David Waddington and Pablo Flack; the basement club with its mid-twenties clientele and monster sound system (mercifully, you can’t hear it upstairs); the gallery space for up-and-coming artists upstairs; the staff dressed in Doc Martens and bomber jackets.
It is hard to believe that until recently this was part of the Crowne Plaza chain. It feels hip and quite young, which makes it an attractive place to lay your head if you, too, are both those things; though with rooms priced at £200-plus a night, it’s unlikely to be packed out with impecunious artists. The hipsters here are likely to be those with a touch of silver hair at the temples.
Shoreditch may no longer be at the bleeding edge of cool, but what it lacks in grittiness, it makes up for in shops and restaurants. The boutiques of Redchurch Street – Sunspel clothes, French fashion brand APC, Aesop cosmetics – are but a stroll from the porte- cochère; Pizza East and Shoreditch House are just around the corner. Mark Hix has a restaurant down the road and the Michelin-starred Angela Hartnett recently opened Merchants Tavern on nearby Charlotte Road.
The White Cube gallery is only five minutes’ walk away – as, indeed, is the northern tip of the City of London. It is 10 minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street station – with its regular Stansted airport link – and two minutes from Shoreditch High Street Overground. Old Street Tube is 15 minutes away. The location is enviable.
The 258 bedrooms are, after the triumph of the lobby (left), a surprise. Universal Design Studios were engaged with the brief to make the interior like “a friend’s Shoreditch apartment” which in this case means APC quilts on the bed, large day beds and coffee tables (rather than a writing desk), plastic drawers containing Pot Noodles and Coca-Cola, and a large pencil sharpener affixed to the wall.
The larger rooms – Superior Deluxe Double, Superior Deluxe Double Double, and Suite – look swish (and bring to mind the nearby Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, a temple to modish minimalism and simple design). But the Standard and Deluxe doubles can feel gloomy come the evening – a result, one supposes, of the grey shade of the walls; not even a “spirit-raising” quote painted across the grey can change that. The bathrooms seem rather spartan and small, too. The toiletries are bolted to the wall.
When refurbishing the old Crowne Plaza, it is clear that Ace Hotels decided – presumably for reasons of economy – to choose their battles. So, while the lobby has been remodelled and the restaurant completely redone, the corridors feel like the Crowne Plaza, with new carpet tiles.
Still, there is no doubting this place has a strong “look”. And if you prefer your hotels design-led and tending to the functional, rather than the sumptuous, you’ll feel right at home.
Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JQ (020 7613 9800; acehotel.com/london).
Doubles start at £215, room only.