When you are booked in to a hotel that goes under the moniker of “The Palace” it’s going to go one of two ways. In Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India the Beers were booked in to “The Hotel Supreme”. On that occasion it was as bad as it gets: the putrid breakfast, the power cuts, the 05.00 PA system playing 110db distorted Bollywood hits outside. Great views from the roof terrace though.
The Palace Manchester on the other hand is, well, palatial. On previous business trips, this hotel was considered too upmarket for the likes of I. The present employer has clearly cut a great deal: lower cost, I note, than the Premier Inn rate. Like so many of the truly splendid buildings around the city, The Palace is a proud, Victorian red-brick affair. Ducking inside from the typically cold and damp Oxford Street you are into a marbled, pillared, tiled, glass-vault-ceilinged lobby replete with mood lighting that is, er, moody.
In the bar/restaurant area, there is a mix of angular modernist furniture, more moody lighting and Victorian splendour in sky-high ceilings draped with fabrics in – I imagine – a chic manner. It works. After a tasty, spicy dinner from an indigenous eatery – a Burrito shop – around the corner, I repair to the hotel bar for a pot of tea with a chocolate and almond torte. Rock and roll eh? The latter is served on – effectively – a dusty old slate. Yay, modern cuisine! I wolf it down whilst reading the paper. It’s such a treat to sit in a space like this: to have space and time to myself on a school night. I drink in the surroundings with my cuppa when it strikes me: what’s really catching the eye is the tiling. Yes, tiling. The walls of the corridors and public areas are tiled with thousands of glossy, wet-look oblongs that are irresistible: you have to touch them. Even the columns in the reception are glazed earthenware and the deep tones in the corridors – deep greens, burgundy reds – give a lovely feel.
A quick research and whaddya know, it used to be an Insurance Company HQ. (Shades of Edinburgh here.) For a time it was considered by architecture critic John Parkinson-Bailey “one of the most prestigious and expensive buildings in Manchester lay forlorn and empty except for a caretaker and the ghost on its staircase.” In 1996 the spent £7million making it the splendid hotel it is now.
Of course, there is a downside to this. Namely that the décor can be mistaken for a public toilet. There are less of these historic municipal conveniences today. Sadly, as councils close the Victorian public loo to save cash, it’s a dwindling experience. Though it happily thwarts pervs. Every cloud…
Then we get to the real downside. I’ve stayed here before and on that occasion had a chic upstairs room with a juxtaposition of Starck-esque chaise-longue and (more) shiny tiles. On this occasion it’s a long, convoluted walk down and down to room seven. If palaces have their beautiful rooms and grandeur, they also have dungeons. When you walk into a room and notice the secondary glazing/et curtains first, alarm bells tinkle.
Through the grubby outside windows there are parked cars in the gloom. Look up and the arches of the railway are apparent. Oxford Road station is above us across the street from the entrance after all. With perfect timing (what I take to be) a freight train rumbles overhead. Tee hee. Let’s not get this out of perspective: the room is warm, clean, dry and comfortable enough. It’s just such a let-down considering the grander areas of the hotel. Corporate hotel bookings eh?
I’m just happy to be in Manchester again. It’s a town that I’ve got to know over the years and I revel in its gritty industrial revolution spawned architecture, proud population and infrastructure. Wandering around the canals, dodging modern trams, admiring the older buildings, ducking under the railway arches, going for a beer in an old pub. Then there’s the brash cars, the upfront locals, the rude new buildings and its unique sense of style. All whilst humming Elbow to myself.