"Euston station," he said. "The only place where one is allowed to rest in comparative peace and comfort, free of charge."
In his Collected Memoirs, the English writer and dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912-64), writes of nights spent sleeping in a variety of exotic venues in central London and environs (Turkish Baths, police station cells, railway station waiting rooms), whenever he was frequently hard-up or down-and-out.
That was in the 1940s; a world now gone. In 2006, the Indian YMCA on the Tottenham Court Road or some of the backpackers' hostels off Piccadilly Circus are your best bets for a cheap sleep of an evening. Last Friday, however, London's first "luxury-budget" hotel opened its doors near Old Street. The man behind the venture is Mr. Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of the Pret A Manger sandwich chain. Rooms were being offered at a pound a night. (Of course, sixty years ago it would only have cost you seven and a tanner for a night at the Turkish Baths.)
Evenings spent at Mr. Beecham's Hoxton Hotel will include a light breakfast.
The night-sergeant at the police station surveyed me dubiously from behind his desk. "Not drunk, are you?" he said.
"No. But all the hotels are full and I want a bed for the night."
The Hoxton, dubbed a 'four-star' hotel by Mr. Beecham and his investment partners, has modelled its price structure on the system used by budget airlines.
"We decided to put out an easyJet-style pricing system," said Mr. Beecham. "The room prices will go up. The point is you know what you're paying. You've got the best available room and the later you book the more you pay."
In addition to cheap room rates, Mr. Beecham is hoping to entice customers by providing low-cost phone calls abroad, snacks and drinks at retail prices and free Internet access throughout the hotel. "We are just trying to solve some of the problems that hotels tend not to do very well, or rip you off on," he said.
After selling rooms for one pound (all of which have now been booked, but the 48-year-old entrepreneur intends to repeat the deal at some point), the Hoxton Hotel offered a number of nights for £29, which have also all been snapped up.
"The devil is in the detail," Mr. Beecham said of the modern looking establishment, built for £17 million on the site of a former car park. "If you don't get the detail right you don't stand a chance." En suite shower-rooms come complete with what Mr. Beecham refers to as 'real' bars of soap, "not that cheap crappy stuff you find in other hotels." There is also free fresh milk and flat-screen televisions in all of the Hoxton's 205 mostly double bedrooms.
"What we're trying to do is offer value," Mr. Beecham said. "[The hotel industry] is about ripping off customers. How much does it cost to make a phone call to America? Do you know for a minute? Two pence. So why would I charge you two pounds fifty? Why would I treat you like that?"
Image from Bravo 99's photostream