06 Sep A walk spanning 131 years, by Agustín Pery
On 27 July 1886, La Correspondencia de España announced to its readers “with satisfaction” that the “active and very well-known owner of the Café Inglés, Don Agustín Ibarra, has just acquired the marvellous house under construction located at 10 Calle del Lobo, and has the exclusive aim of turning it into a hotel; and on the extremely spacious ground floor he will build a restaurant that is just as good or better than what you can find abroad”.
131 years later, the street is no longer called “del Lobo” but is instead Echegaray. We didn’t travel to London but to New York to “spare no sacrifice when it comes to the furniture”. As for our renowned head chef, we found him in Madrid, not in Bordeaux. But Carmen Cordón and Ignacio Jiménez keep the proposal intact, that more than a century ago, emboldened Agustín Ibarra and that with their florid language reflected the spirit of the time: “Spare no sacrifice when it comes to the furniture or to the many modern technologies that can be used in your new home”.
The spirit, challenge, desire and dream of this marriage of hoteliers established in Mallorca is this: for he historic Gran Hotel Inglés to once again be a standard in luxury, exclusivity and elegance, based on the conviction that a hotel should be a place where customers should not feel like lodgers but guests instead, and that they should enjoy a stay in “one of the best hotels in Europe” today as customers did back then.
If back then the pages of La Época praised the excellence of a unique hotel in Madrid for having “a lift, bathroom on each floor, lighting, steam heating and all of the advances that make life more comfortable”, today the historic Gran Hotel Inglés will combine some of the best hotel advancements of the 21st century without giving up any of the serene, unpretentious elegance for which our 19th century history was known.
Just like Don Agustín in his day, the new owners have scoured the seven seas to capture and translate all of the magnificence of those salons, rooms and dining areas into our present-day incarnation. David Rockwell and his team – winners of a multitude of international awards – have become enamoured with Madrid history and the project. They have poured their brilliance and expertise into ensuring that this, their first complete historic hotel project in Spain, is a unique, exclusive establishment. It meets the high standards set by Doña Carmen and Don Ignacio for their first hotel in the Spanish capital, just like Don Agustín wanted for the Inglés.
Our restaurant built “on the ground floor” will be as “extremely spacious” as described in the pages of El Liberal on 1 August 1886. Though we must say that we cannot aspire to “serve up to 300 guests” simultaneously because today, as back then, “it is quite a task in this business”. Luckily, the quality of Spanish cuisine and the skills of our chefs have grown so much that we didn’t need to travel to Bordeaux to recruit our head chef for this marvellous adventure. We found Fran Vicente in the kitchen of a two Michelin star restaurant in Madrid. He’s now designing our kitchen and preparing the dishes for a menu with which he wants – as do we – to restore and reinterpret (without changing) those delicious recipes of Madrid history, full of nuances that once thrilled the guests of Don Agustín, turning his property into a culinary standard in the Spanish capital.
We’ve reduced the number of rooms from 56 to 48 in this oldest hotel in Madrid and – in a display of contemporary design – our guests and friends will no longer have to cross the hallway to use the bathroom. We can now tell you that the rooms have a bathtub as well as a shower, something that was unthinkable back then and that isn’t easily done today. We promise that our historic hotel rooms will be “spacious, luminous and well-ventilated” and that with the help of Fran Vicente and his team, what once excited a reporter for La Iberia the day after the inauguration will again be “plainly demonstrated”: “the kitchen of the new hotel is excellent and even more impressive is its cellar”.
Remember this date: 17 December 1886. The day the Gran Hotel Inglés was inaugurated. Exactly 131 years later, Madrid and the Barrio de las Letras will again boast a “truly noteworthy” hotel with 48 “comfortable, elegant rooms and reading rooms”. We promise that the dining area will have “electric lighting and luxurious table service” and that there will of course be a “lift and a perfect heating system” – though we can assure you that “the use of fuel to maintain the house at a very pleasant temperature” will no longer be necessary in the oldest hotel in Madrid.
Given that the cost of living has risen astronomically since the time of Don Agustín, our financial group sincerely regrets that the cost of construction and refurbishing the building very much exceeds the “90,000 pesetas” that Mr Ibarra once invested. This has unfortunately prevented us from maintaining the rates of ten pesetas a night that was charged back then.
This is all in hope that our home – which is also your home – features not only the best staff, led by General Manager Javier Polo (until now the director of operations for the Hotel Villa Magna in Madrid) but also “elegant and comfortable rooms, individual rooms to host breakfasts and luncheons, a round table and à la carte service; a renowned chef and pastry chef, cellars full of domestic and imported wines and liqueurs, bathing areas (which we understand are now called spas), heating, a lift, a telephone (and yes, USB and Wi-Fi) and that our staff can help you in (nearly) every language”.
Don’t worry about the bus or railway stations. Since the historic hotel is located in one of the most central neighbourhoods – a dynamic, cultural melting pot studded with monuments – moving around the Spanish capital and its surrounding areas is simple, no matter what mode of transportation you choose.