Adding Celebrity Sizzle to a London Neighborhood (The New York Times)
On a recent, and unusually balmy, summer evening in the Marylebone neighborhood of London, families strolled outside landmark Georgian townhouses and into small playgrounds with lush gardens lined with oak trees. Along the High Street, the area’s thoroughfare designed to mimic the main communal stretch of a smaller town, fashionable couples and groups of friends congregated outside local restaurants and bars.
A few blocks away, there was even more action: Vintage Bentleys and arriving Suburbans deposited reed-thin models and rock stars in front of the Chiltern Firehouse (chilternfirehouse.com), and they quickly made their way past a liveried doorman and behind an imposing wall — to the dismay of the few paparazzi who waited across the street. Even most Marylebone residents were unfamiliar with this tucked-away road before the new hotel opened here during the city’s fashion week this spring. But now it has put the formerly sleepy Chiltern Street on the style map.
The Chiltern Firehouse is the latest venture by André Balazs, the hotelier behind celeb hangouts like the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and the Mercer in New York. His opening of the 26-room luxury hotel in a former fire station, originally built in 1889 and vacant for decades, was the result of a five-year-long search for the right structure and the perfect location in London. “The Victorian Gothic architecture reminded me of the Marmont,” Mr. Balazs told me, “and the neighborhood was like the SoHo that used to be there when we first opened the Mercer.”
The deep-red-brick and limestone building, with original details like carved stone Portland arches and mansard roofs, now houses an outdoor garden bar and the Chiltern Firehouse restaurant, helmed by the Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes, and is a magnet for boldfaced names. Kate Moss uses the spot as her office away from home, the it-model Poppy Delevingne held her post-wedding party here, Bill Clinton had a meal here in the spring, and Lindsay Lohan all but lives there when in London. The place is such a hotbed of celebrity intrigue, in fact, that The Daily Mail, one of London’s gossipy hometown papers, has printed the A-list names who frequent the place almost every day since it opened.
In many ways, the neighborhood of Marylebone and especially Chiltern Street — although long a bastion of quirky retail one-offs — has also come into the limelight with a new generation of upscale shops alongside decades-long tenants with a feeling that recalls NoLIta in New York or a secluded street of the West Village. Walking past the small boutiques with their vintage-style storefronts, I came across the Monocle Cafe (cafe.monocle.com) that the Monocle magazine editor and founder Tyler Brûlé opened even before the hotel arrived, and Trunk Labs, owned by Mr. Brûlé’s boyfriend, Mats Klingberg, down the street (trunkclothiers.com), which provides travel bags to the hotel’s jet-setters and frequent fliers.
Meanwhile, Prism (prismlondon.com), a new swimwear and sunglasses label, founded by Anna Laub, a former fashion editor, just opened its first storefront boutique here after waiting a year and a half for a retail space to open up on the street. “With the Firehouse, we have a constant stream of people coming to the neighborhood that are exactly our customers,” Ms. Laub said, “as well as having a great new spot for us to hang out.”
But the street isn’t completely gentrified yet, which is exactly why it remains so charming: A barbershop called Mario’s Gents Hairdressers, with a cheery red and white facade, has been around since 1935, and still sees a stream of local clients as well as guests from the buzzy hotel, who come in for a 25-pound haircut or a long-blade shave. The barbershop and the 30-plus-year-old Shreeji newsstand next door, which seems to carry every magazine and newspaper on the globe, show no intention of moving. There is even a store, Long Tall Sally, devoted to women who need larger sizes in clothes and footwear dating from 1976, and JAS Musicals, which has made Indian instruments on the street since 1985.
One can’t help fear that the more quirky one-offs could fall victim to the neighborhood upswing: property prices in Marylebone have risen by 65.8 percent in the last five years, the most of any area in central London, according to the real estate company Savills. For now, despite reports of tenants complaining about the noise created by waiting cars and shouting paparazzi on Chiltern Street (the hotel has set up a new hotline for resident complaints), Marylebone’s special alchemy seems mostly undisturbed. “We have always loved this area,” said Giovanni Zaffarano, one of the barbers at Mario’s, “but now it is even better.”