It's the opening weekend at Liverpool's hotly anticipated Beatles-themed hotel, and the place is heaving. The immaculately dressed, permanently smiling doorman must be suffering from arm-ache, given the continual stream of people arriving to peek behind its huge, incredibly shiny doors. They've waited a long time for the £20m transformation of a 19th-century office block into the four-star Hard Days Night Hotel, dedicated to arguably the greatest band of all time.
The idea was dreamt up nine years ago (it's such a no-brainer, it seems extraordinary no one's ever thought of it before) but the project was beset by financial hitches. The hotel is now owned by a Liverpool-based developer. Despite the delays, it's rather neat that the eventual opening has coincided with the start of Liverpool's co-tenure (with Stavanger in Norway) as European Capital of Culture 2008. The level of worldwide interest in the hotel has been phenomenal, with a high volume of advance bookings from the US and Brazil in particular.
The hotel's designers have worked hard to avoid any sense of tackiness in creating a Beatles theme, so don't expect to find a yellow submarine in reception or a Madame Tussauds-style waxwork of John Lennon in the entrance. Instead, in a bid to appeal to businesspeople and non-fans as much as Beatles diehards, the theme is more subtle, with original paintings of the band in each of the 110 bedrooms.
The wide central staircase, spiralling up to the fifth floor, is lined with giant black-and-white photos – many previously unseen – depicting the Fab Four's association with Liverpool through the years.
The hotel was 80 per cent full on opening night last Friday and sold out on its second night, but despite this – and the incessant flow of locals that came to test out the bar and restaurant – the clearly well-trained staff coped admirably.
Hard Days Night Hotel, Central Buildings, North John Street, Liverpool L2 6RR (0151 236 1964; www.harddaysnighthotel.com).
The hotel occupies an imposing marble columned, Grade II-listed building on the corner of North John Street and Mathew Street in the old merchant district of the city. It is also right next to the Cavern Club (a recreation of the venue where The Beatles played in their formative years). Time from international airport: Liverpool John Lennon airport (slogan: "Above us only sky") is a half-hour/£20 cab ride away.Time from mainline station: Liverpool Lime Street is a 10-minute walk away (five minutes/£4 in a taxi).
Our deluxe double overlooked a tiny enclosed garden, so we weren't affected by any street noise. The queen-size bed was extremely comfortable, and it was rather fun playing with the control panel on the headboard which operates both the bedroom lights and the "do not disturb/please make up my room" signs. The furniture is modern and stylish, with fabrics in contrasting textures, and a colour scheme of dark brown teamed with green, orange and blue. There are two penthouse suites – the Lennon Suite features a white grand piano, while the McCartney Suite has a suit of armour (a reference to the bass guitarists's knighthood).
The hotel's main restaurant is Blakes, named after the artist Sir Peter Blake, who designed the cover of the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. A display of 60 images of icons from the album sleeve forms a centrepiece in the restaurant, which has a light and airy feel, thanks to the high ceiling and well-spaced tables. Competently cooked dishes from a modern British menu include goat's cheese and walnut tart, Goosnargh chicken with chestnut and apricot stuffing, fish pie, pear posset and apple crumble.
There are also two bars in the hotel. Bar Four already looks set to become one of the coolest places to hang out in Liverpool, with its sophisticated modern design, and surprisingly tasty cocktails, such as Strawberry Fields with Pepper (fresh strawberries crushed with lemon, thyme and sugar syrup, shaken with vodka infused with grass from Strawberry Fields, and garnished with black pepper). Down in the basement – and reserved for hotel residents only – is the more intimate Hari's Bar, with a stylish red and black colour scheme and pictures reflecting The Beatles' "Indian period".
With so many photos, paintings, sculptures and memorabilia scattered throughout the building, Hard Days Night is as much of a destination as it is a hotel. It's an art gallery, exhibition and hotel all rolled into one – with a soundtrack of Beatles hits to inject a feel-good factor to your stay.
Freebies: Ermenegildo Zegna toiletries, mineral water, organic biscuits, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Keeping in touch: Direct-dial telephones in bedrooms and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at £170, room only.
I'm not paying that: The Sir Thomas Hotel (0151 236 1366; www.sirthomashotel.co.uk), in the city centre, offers rooms from £70, including breakfast.Reuse content