The May Fair Hotel History
THE LEGACY LIVES ON
"I believe the parallelogram between Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street and Hyde Park encloses more intelligence and human ability, to say nothing of wealth and beauty, than the world has ever collected in such a space before." Sydney Smith.
1660s - where it all began
After the Great Fire of London in 1666, the English aristocracy fled the smouldered city of London to the open meadows to the west, where they built grand homes lined with rare folios of Shakespeare and Old Master paintings.
In the 1700s, King James || granted the rights for an annual fair to be held upon the grounds: the May Fair. For 15 days, the richest and the poorest flocked to enjoy the revelry, which entailed livestock auctions, stage plays, thronging crowds, and ample drinking. It was riotous. And it thrived.
Decades later, in this area inhabited by gentry and nobility, the fair was ceased, along with its reputation for the loose and lewd. Yet the name of the elegant district that grew from this raucous fair remained.
In the 1900s – when May Fair was still spelt as two words – American aristocracy moved in, as the Astors and Pierpoint Morgans joined the Mighty Dudleys, Grosvenors and the Dukes of Devonshire.
And then began an era where the grandest old family mansions converted into London’s newest and most prestigious hotels. Enter The May Fair.
1920s - a royal awakening
In 1927, The May Fair Hotel announced itself to the world with a suitably royal fanfare, as King George V and Queen Mary gave their seal of approval. A gesture that merely hinted at the glamour to ensue.
From the moment the grand doors swung open, The May Fair was London society’s playground. With Bert Ambrose and the hottest band in town, the young and affluent whirled around the grand ballroom alongside royalty, night after night. With a delectable restaurant and the finest rooms, it was the place for high society to meet.
When World War Two began, The May Fair was an oasis. The bandleaders of the time, Jack Jackson and Harry Roy, entertained the thousands of guests who flocked to the ballroom, eager to revel in escapism and merriment, and forget the outside world.
Though the lower ballroom was used as it was deeper and safer, life at The May Fair continued almost as if there were no war.
1950s - Hollywood on Thames
This was the era of the Danziger brothers. In the late fifties and early sixties, W1 became London’s 90210, as Hollywood film impresarios bought The May Fair and turned it into a magnet for the rich and the famous (and, sometimes, the infamous).
The Danziger brothers didn’t rest on their laurels. Their film set designer revamped the hotel with a private cinema and a theatre, which sold out every night. And it wasn’t just highflying directors and star-studded names who graced the suites: musicians flocked too, often booking 50 rooms for their entourages. Pianos were placed in every suite – and for one notable guest, a dance floor.
In 1960, the Beachcomber bar opened and London had seen nothing like it. Scenery designers built a pool with waterfalls, home to real caiman crocodiles. The atmosphere changed from sunshine to thunder and lightning, and when that cleared, rainbows. It was a piece of theatre in itself, and guests luxuriated in their own Pacific island, just off Piccadilly. The last rum drink was poured and the resident parrot’s last squawk was heard in 1985, when the Beachcomber was transformed into The Crystal Room, which proudly remains.
Staying true to decades past, the unmistakable character the Danziger brothers stamped on The May Fair stands strong today.
2000s onwards - still making history
In 2004, a new era for The May Fair began. Having been bought by the prestigious Edwardian Hotels London, every single room in the hotel was transformed. New wings and floors were added, amid a stylish, modern effusion of glass and leather, marble and gold leaf. Just 30 months and £75 million later, The May Fair could once again announce itself to the world: ‘a hotel like no other’
Still to this day, eminent spaces remain. The Crystal Room’s spectacular Baccarat chandelier glimmers in past and present glory, and the private theatre’s acoustics are still felt to the core. A lavish bar continues to serve the classic and avant-garde, and a fine-dining restaurant still creates the delectable. Above all, 404 luxurious rooms and 12 of the capital’s most spectacular suites provide unforgettable experiences, and the later additions of the Cigar Room and the urban spa retreat ensure that The May Fair still competes in a league of its own.
And so it’s no wonder The May Fair is the official hotel to the British Film Institute and London Fashion Week, with its grand settings playing host to lavish product launches and fashion previews, auditions, dress rehearsals and film premieres.
Famed for hosting outrageous parties overflowing with champagne-infused debauchery in eras past, today The May Fair is celebrated for its elegance and charm. Yet nowhere is, or has ever been, more renowned for its discretion.
Bound by secrets that will never escape, The May Fair is a fortress of tales. But it’s not just discretion and luxury service that keeps guests returning. High security, private entrances and CCTV all ensure that everyone can stay and not be seen – unless of course, that’s exactly what they wish.
Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary tour The May Fair Hotel, the day before it opens. It’s the first new hotel in London in over 20 years.
New hairdressing salons are installed, along with a lounge and writing room.
The first and seventh floors are closed after bomb damage.
Thirty US officers are billeted at The May Fair.
The death of Sir Francis Towle CBE, the former managing director, is announced.
The Danziger brothers take over The May Fair and begin to transform the hotel and increase the number of bedrooms to 500.
1960 - 1963
The legendary Beachcomber nightclub opens in 1960, followed by the Boulevard de Paris restaurant and The May Fair Theatre.
Grand Metropolitan take over The May Fair. The famous ballroom and the Boulevard de Paris restaurant are closed to make way for the Palm Beach Casino.
The hotel joins the Inter Continental Hotels Group.
The Beachcomber nightclub closes and The Crystal Room, an elegant ballroom, opens.
The May Fair celebrates its Diamond Jubilee.
2004 - 2006
The May Fair Hotel is bought by the prestigious Edwardian Hotels London. Over 30 months they spend £75 million refurbishing it.
The May Fair becomes the Official Hotel partner to London Fashion Week. May Fair Bar is judged ‘The Best Hotel Bar’ in London.
The May Fair Hotel is announced as the Official Hotel for the BFI London Film Festival.
The hotel’s latest addition is unveiled: The Cigar Room. The May Fair receives a Green Tourism Gold Award.
2012 - 2014
The May Fair Hotel features in the Cool Brands UK list three years’ running.
Quince, the hotel’s restaurant is closed and The May Fair Kitchen is opened.
May Fair Bar undergoes a stylish refurbishment.
May Fair Kitchen is transformed, offering guests a taste of the Mediterranean with Italian and Spanish small plates and fine wines.