Hotel of the Week: Great John Street Hotel, Manchester

A former school is the setting for the five-star Great John Street Hotel in Manchester. It still draws on its educational roots, but these days the specialist subject is luxury
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The Independent Travel

Until relatively recently, Manchester had just one five-star hotel, the huge, award-winning Lowry. But with the opening of the 30-suite Great John Street last October it now has a five-star boutique rival. Pity all those overpaid United footballers: now they have a choice of where to book a room for the night.

Small, but almost perfectly formed, the Great John Street takes its inspiration from the three-storey Victorian red-brick building's original function - a school. Thus you'll find a "Boys' Staircase" and a "Girls' Staircase", black-and-white class photos on the walls, and a "Headmaster's Office" for business meetings.

But, that is where any sense of the utilitarian stops. The interiors, while hardly original - subdued good taste with a hint of the exotic - are single-mindedly luxurious. Low Louis XV-style chairs, upholstered in taupe and berry crushed velvets, are mixed with floor-to-ceiling lilac-and-gold voile curtains, and highly polished, original wooden floors reflect the light from Moroccan lamps and mirror-glass side tables. Just perfect for a rock star's private party - indeed, Simply Red had a do on the roof terrace.

The staff are sweetly chatty and eager to please, if occasionally a little perplexed by the demands of their job. And, while some of the finishing touches lack panache - when you are spending a wallet-scouring £450 a night, you would expect classier chocolates in the mini-bar, not a Toblerone and a packet of Maltesers - the Lowry needs to watch its back. It is no longer the only premier-league player in town.

The location

Down a side street near the River Irwell, 10 minutes' tram ride from Piccadilly station, and cheekily close to the Lowry. Granada Studios peers over its shoulder, so guests in the front suites catch glimpses of Corrie regulars going on and off set.

The comfort factor

The duplex suites all have dizzily high schoolroom ceilings and a mezzanine floor, which makes even the smallest feel like an apartment. The beds have Egyptian cotton sheets, and chenille and velvet throws for chilly Northern nights. There are the usual boys' toys - DVD player, DAB radio, broadband internet - and a puzzling miniature calculator, which is left on your pillow. Could this be for totting up the bar bill before you go to sleep?

The bathroom

Open-plan and on the mezzanine, in the modern, look-at-me-I'm-having-a-wash way. Roll-top cast-iron baths make a nod to the building's origins, while the walk-in steam shower is unashamedly 21st century.

The food and drink

The inviting, deco-decadent lounge bar is the hotel's centrepiece - literally, as it occupies a one-and-a-half-storey well in the middle of the building. Food is limited to what are effectively substantial bar snacks: egg and chips, steak sandwich and croque monsieur. It's open to guests 24 hours a day.

The people

A slightly unsure mix of footballers' grown-up children, managing directors and upper-end media suits.

The area

You are well-placed for shopping at Deansgate, the Science and Industry Museum in the old-satanic-mills quarter, and Manchester Art Gallery and the Royal Exchange theatre. WAGs will be glad to hear that Harvey Nicks and Selfridges are also nearby.

The access

One suite is suitable for wheelchair users. Children are welcome, as are dogs.

The damage

Suites start at £235 per night, room-only.

The address

Great John Street, Manchester M3 (0870-220 2277; greatjohnstreet.co.uk)

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