Putting on the Ritz
WHEN the Ritz London, conceived and founded by the Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz, opened a century ago on Piccadilly it was announced an immediate success.
Now, in its centenary year, the hotel continues to be an icon and the meeting place of celebrities.
The first steel-framed building of any significance in London with its French Chateau-style architecture and Louis XVI interiors, the hotel was, according to Cesar Ritz, ‘a small house to which I am proud to see my name attached.’ Over the years, the words ‘ritz’ and ‘ritzy’ took on the connotations of splendour, opulence and chic.
In the decade leading to its centennial, more than £24 million ($43.6 million) was invested in the hotel and a complete refurbishment was completed. The hotel has been fully restored to its original glory.
A book brought out to mark the hotel’s centenary provides interesting glimpses. King Edward VII and his mistress Mrs Keppel would often dine in the Marie Antoinette Suite. In 1907, at a Parsee’s dinner party held in the Banqueting Room for over 100 guests, every lady present was given a gold bracelet studded with pearls and rubies as a souvenir.
Visitors between the two world wars included Winston Churchill, the Aga Khan and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1931, the visit of Charlie Chaplin caused such a ruckus that 40 policemen were needed to control the crowds. The Ritz was struck twice during the London blitz. One of the bombs destroyed two suites and left steel girders twisted. In 1965, the Ritz was listed as a building of architectural interest.
In more recent years, it was at the Ritz that the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, decided to make their first appearance in public together in January 1999.
One of the regulars is former US president Bill Clinton, who favours a suite at the top of the hotel with the best views. His security men are among a few who regularly get to have breakfast at the Ritz wearing jeans. The hotel enforces a formal dress code in public areas with gentlemen having to wear a jacket and tie when using the Palm Court or the Ritz Restaurant
During the centenary year, the Ritz has invited guests to avail themselves of a Centennial Celebration rooms package. With prices starting from £1500, the two-night package will include airport transfers in the Ritz’s new 2006 Rolls Royce Phantom car; complimentary membership to the Ritz Club; signature treatments at the Ritz Salon; a night at the theatre to a London production of the guest’s choice; dinner in the classic opulence of the Ritz Restaurant – often described as one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Europe – and a centenary gift to commemorate the special occasion.