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Quirky Splendour At The Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell
December 20, 2018
The Zetter Townhouse lies across the cobbles of St John’s Square in Clerkenwell, directly opposite its larger, more industrial-looking sister hotel, The Zetter. By comparison, the Townhouse is unassuming from the outside. Housed in two Georgian buildings with a light blue door and black metal fencing, it looks rather like a smart, albeit subdued private residence, but behind the door, it’s a whole different story as Millie Walton discovers.
We make several laps of the square before we decide that, yes, this must be it: the blue door. The whole square looks like something out of a film in that it’s so neat and orderly for London that seems almost unreal in its perfection. In fact, there’s something about Clerkenwell, in general, that feels nostalgic, as if the neighbourhood has frozen in time. So here we are: standing on the doorstep of the Zetter Townhouse feeling whimsical, romantic and more than a little uncertain. We open the door and step inside into a flamboyant living room. It takes a few seconds to adjust, to see it all properly. The walls and surfaces are covered in portraits, paintings, posters; there’s a stag’s head and strange, fantastical taxidermy. The furniture is mis-matched as if collected from antique shops over the years and there’s so much of it, so much of everything — colours, textures, styles — nothing about this room is orderly or contained. A true cabinet of curiosities.
There’s a group crowded around a low table with the remains of a high tea spread out in front of them and several empty cocktail glasses — the Mad Hatter’s tea party springs to mind. We sit on a threadbare velvet sofa and wait to see what will happen. After a few minutes, our waiter wearing a rustic cotton jacket with a neckerchief, saunters over to pour us water from a tin jug. We explain that we’re here to check-in to the hotel, is this the right place, please? He nods and tells us that someone else will come with the key.
Another waiter in a similar uniform, shows us to the elevator, leads us along a corridor — with paintings hanging in a diagonal line, and a retro carpet that reminds us of old airport hotels — to the door right at the end of our room. Still otherworldly, but a little more restrained, a huge four poster bed sits at the centre with a bed spread reminiscent of an old horse racing rug. It’s surprisingly spacious, given the hotel’s appearance from the outside, but still snug and homely. The windows overlook the square; we watch a waiter running across the courtyard to presumably borrow something from the Zetter. The bathroom is especially beautiful with a large bathtub and REN toiletries.
We discover treats hidden in cupboards and drawers — salted nuts, artisan popcorn, brown-bottled bitters and pre-mixed cocktails — but decide to head back downstairs for a bite to eat. The tea-party group has mainly dispersed, and a few others have appeared. We steal an empty table by the window with two low seats and order two cocktails from the one page house list: sorrel collins and bee pollen rum old fashioned.
There’s no restaurant proper, but the snack list has plenty of satisfying options. The crispy anchovy stuffed olives are amongst our favourites with aioli dipping sauce, which we alternate with béarnaise from the triple cooked chips. The sorrel collins wins for its herby infusion (neither of us actually know what sorrel tastes like but there’s a hint of tarragon for sure). Much later on, we order up a fish finger sandwich to the room to share — it’s the best we’ve ever tasted, though that could be the effect of the cocktails rubbing off.
The next morning, we’re the only ones there for breakfast. It’s early, we’ve both got work. We drink coffee and nibble buttery croissants, wishing out-loud that we could still be snuggled up in bed, but it’s been the perfect mid-week treat.
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