The Welcome was a bit chaotic but then I did check in on a Sunday lunchtime, just as everyone else was checking out. I had to take a walk around the block for half-an-hour to let the rush die down. Check-in was a little functional but in keeping with the nature of this practical and un-flashy city bolthole.
The Neighbourhood is a super-trendy East London enclave of Hoxton, famous since the 1990s for renegade artists, Britpop musicians and edgy fashion designers. The hotel is built on a former car park but in a previous incarnation the space was a major gangster hangout. Hoxton Square is a short walk north; there you'll find the White Cube art gallery and an array of bistros, bars and clubs. The neighbourhood is a warren of narrow roads and lanes, bordered by characteristic two- and three-storey brick buildings. The Service is not the draw of the Hoxton Urban Lodge. It's designed to be a DIY hotel in many respects and that's one of the reasons the price is so reasonable (less than half the price of nearby full-service hotels). However, those essential service elements - such as a breakfast bag of goodies being delivered to my door, and my room being kept spotlessly clean - were executed well. The Room had an immediate air of the university hall of residence - painted stone and breeze-block walls and functional and infrequent furniture - but that soon disappears when you catch a glimpse of the soft cotton sheets, individually designed pillowcases and cute red bedside lamps. The big surprise was the bathroom - beautiful granite, power showers and neat chrome taps: five-star feel for two-star price. No mini-bars in the rooms but if you're desperate for a Mars Bar, can of Coke or tube of Pringles, you can buy them all downstairs at reception for shop prices. Ask the Concierge. You won't find a concierge in a hotel like this. The staff behind the counter were friendly if a little lacking in knowledge but they did produce a bus route map and some advice on how to get to the Tate Modern Museum while avoiding the Tube. The Scene is young, preppy and in-the-know. It's a big favourite with out-of-towners who are in London to hit the clubs or catch a concert. Expect lots of hair product and slack jeans. If people were partying until the wee hours I did not hear them through the thick walls.
Loved the overwhelming feeling that I was getting a terrific bargain: half the price of the dreadful and characterless chain hotels nearby. Loved the breakfast service - a paper bag left on your door handle with banana, orange juice and yoghurt inside. The Hoxton Grille is a steakhouse and bistro/cafe on the ground floor and still a trendy hangout for Londoners, guests and rock 'n' roll celebs. Hated having to lug my luggage from Old Street tube station - about 10 minutes away across busy roads. But hey, it is London. It's huge, hectic and it's a miracle the Tube still works so I really shouldn't complain, but maybe I'll splash out and take taxi next time.
The Verdict. It's what London has needed for years - a cheap hotel which doesn't look or feel like a cheap hotel. It is ideal for anyone visiting London who would rather save on the accommodation and instead spend their hard-earned cash on a meal at The Wolseley or a night or two at the theatre. It's safe, smart and surprisingly luxurious in a non-opulent way. The Hoxton Urban Lodge,
81 Great Eastern Street,
London, EC2A 3HU.
Tel: +44 207 550 100,
Doubles from Dh430.