Not since the Beatles came out with “She Loves You” has a London institution created this much excitement among the hip, young coolios of London’s West End.
Yes, I’m talking about Radio, the rooftop bar, perched atop ME London. Every weekend, block-long lines snake around the exquisite five-star hotel that has pulled down nearly every possible hotel award since it opened near Covent Garden last year. Every stiletto-wearing beauty, every Crombie-carrying hipster is waiting for their turn to ride the dedicated elevator to the tenth floor and Radio’s panoramic view of River Thames, Big Ben, the London Eye, the theater district and other icons of oh-so-cool London.
So how does a zeitgeist begin? In the case of Radio and ME London, it was already pointed in the right direction as the latest offering from Melia, the savvy, cosmopolitan Spanish hotel group. But it was also blessed with the leverage of location, wedged between Westminster and Trafalgar Square and butting up against the West End Theater District.
Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor who pioneered radio transmission, had a telegraph station here in the 1920s and some of the BBC’s early broadcasts were boomed from this location near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
But perhaps ME London’s biggest coup was timing and dumb luck. It opened just in time for London Fashion Week 2013, serendipitously across the street from Somerset House where the catwalk is set up and where more than 150 designers have exhibitions.
That Donatella Versace, Victoria Beckham and Diane von Furstenburg showed up at ME London to judge the International Woolmark Prize certainly didn’t deter interest in this stunning hotel that makes a fashion statement of its own.
Architects Foster + Partners, in their first hotel project, wrapped the 157 rooms, two bars, and three restaurants around a nine-story, white-marble atrium that soars to a distant triangle of natural light. The rooms, including 16 suites, have white leather panels, floor to ceiling windows and an interactive TV and lighting system that requires concierge instruction. From the hotel’s dark hallways to the atrium’s nightly eight-minute light show, the design is fresh, original and worthy of every honor it reaped.
But what about all those beautiful people waiting in those lines? Was Radio really worth this kind of commitment, especially when a numerous selection of West End bars were within stiletto-wobbling distance?
Having the good fortune to stay at ME London (I was writing a story on the upcoming Banksy exhibition to be held here April 24-27) and to preview the bar that hundreds of people half my age were lusting to enter, I boarded the elevator that led to its vaunted heights.
My first clue that I was in for a treat was the size of the drink menu — 12 pages filled with such cocktails as Thames River Iced ME (Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, Bacardi, El Himador, peach liqueur, lemon and ting), the AM/FM (Bacardi, Chambord, mint, lemon and passion fruit) and Flower in the Rain (Grey Goose, rhubarb, lemon, cranberry and strawberry).
The vodka menu had 15 offerings from Finland, Poland and, of course, Russia. More than 16 imported whiskeys hailing from Japan to the U.S. shout party vibe.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of the colorful cocktails at Radio are the edible flower garnishes, a welcome sight to an American midwesterner who had one hell of a winter. Live flowers? That's a drink worth toasting.
Not only do Radio mixologists take advantage of such fragrant elixirs as rose water, lavender and elderflower, but they top many of their gorgeous cocktails with a tantalizing reminder of spring and all that that entails. Thanks, Radio, I needed that.