It's hard to believe that it's ten years since Ian Schrager opened St Martin's Lane Hotel. Like it's sister hotel, The Sanderson, also designed by Philippe Starck, these minimalist but dramatic spaces came to define London during the noughties. These were more than just places to rest your head; these were the iconic meeting places of a new generation of young jet setting travellers, who arrived with Manolo Blahnik shoes or bespoke jacket with jeans. They had business meetings there to be sure, but in the days before the credit crunch, they also partied and socialised in the bars and vast lobbies. Ten years on the question is - have they survived? Are they passe? Is that era over?
St Martin's Lane is certainly still busy and both the Light Bar and the Cuba de Asia restaurant seem to be suffering no more than any of London's other restaurants and bars. Though endlessly copied, the theatrics of the lobby still impress. The lighting creates a space of both grandeur and intimacy: etched glass, hushed white and yellow walls and cream marble floors. A feeling of anticipation and excitement is stirred by the dark purple of the bar or the candlelit animation of the restaurant. There are those Starck moments of eccentricity too; a row of seats shaped like giant gold teeth. No, St Martin's Lane still wows you on arrival. The innovations of 'lobby socialising' and 'hotel as theatre' still work. But beyond the facade, how does it stand up today as a hotel?
If you can find the lifts - probably the most disappointing corner of the hotel - you'll see the Starck signature is found throughout the building. The flatscreens with goldfish in the lift now look a little bit technologically old hat, and the innovative lighting installations don't seem so stunning anymore but Starck isn't just about lighting effects and surreal juxtapositions. The room numbers, for instance, woven into the carpets rather than stencilled on the doors, is still a lovely touch. Once inside your room, the difference between Starck's minimalism and the many copies it has inspired is revealed in the quality of the materials. There may be a touch of dayglo yellow paint in the archway to your en suite bathroom but there is always the touch of something natural too- some unpolished stone or unvarnished wood. On the first floor there are also the exceptional 'Garden Suites': the room is built round a small inner courtyard, with chairs and tables exposed to the sky, under the shade of a an ivy covered covered camelia tree. A little oasis of zen.
The rooms may be a decade old, but it would take a sharp eye to spot a broken lampshade or a cracked tile. On the night I stayed, though the staff in the Light Bar were very polite about it, the bar food took a long time to arrive and, like any of London's chic drinking places, a round of drinks is going to cost you £50. But these are quibbles. Staying at St Martin's is still a unique experience. It has none of the predictable limitations of London's older hotels but, unlike some of the newer ones, the constraints of the original 60's building have actually made the building more adventurous and unpredictable. A witty and magical fusion of styles, St Martins has not gone out of date. Instead, it has aged and become a classic.