There are some travel spots which are always like returning home and for me, for much of the 1990s, it was visiting the Columbia Hotel in London. This was a rocker’s hotel in the Lancaster Gate neighborhood, just close enough to Notting Hill and Oxford Street. It was perfect for a weekend escape from New York, jetting off for a solo getaway, or work (at least that’s what my producers used to call it!) Anyone in the music business, on both sides of the pond, knew this place – this was the real deal rock hotel.
For those on the inside track, The Columbia was a place where we could hang with our own, into the wee hours of the morning, because London pubs used to close at the ungodly hour of 11 pm and rockers are just waking up at that time. The Columbia’s bar was just for us – you either had to be a guest at the hotel, a friend of a guest, or a music insider known to the hotel staff because we could drink until the sun came up and often did!
The Columbia was also the chosen hotel for American military passing through town, having actually served as a military hospital in WWII. One morning (or was it afternoon) I stumbled out of bed to go to breakfast and when the tiny elevator doors popped open, there was an Air Force pilot and a bald Sinead O’Connor. You just never knew who would be staying in the room next door.
This Victorian mecca was spartan to say the least, there were no flat screen TVs. There are still none. The rooms’ decor was tired but cozy and the bartender always knew how to make the perfect rum and Coke for this American journalist.
There were also strange room configurations such as duplexes where the bottom level could fit nothing but a wall-to-wall bed. Just imagine moving the furniture around your hotel room. We would. Whatever we didn’t like we would place in the hall and it either disappeared overnight or stayed there for a few days and then disappeared into auntie’s attic or wherever. Someone with a wheelie could barely make it down the corridor with someone else passing in the opposite direction. We’re talking tiny.
This was home – no wild parties, no rock ‘n’ roll orgies just a safe place where we could always hang our hat and know that the lights would always be on whenever we came home. The Columbia Hotel is a great budget hotel in the heart of London, the world’s most expensive city.
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