Blitz at the Ritz | St James's London


Blitz at the Ritz

If The Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly is the physical manifestation of proving a point, it’s that it will take more than bombs to dampen London’s spirit.

Read more

During the Second World War, The Ritz became a pocket of decadence amid austerity, an important gathering place for well-heeled refugees and the city’s elite. The great hotels of the city – Dorchester, Savoy, Claridge’s and The Ritz – bore the illusion of safety, as if stepping into these hotels’ grand entrance halls was to step into another world. And with its blackout balls and a quietly raging bar in the basement, The Ritz became a place where, for those who could afford it, there was still fun to be had.

Delighting visitors for over a century, the hotel was opened in 1906 by the distinguished Swiss hotelier César Ritz. He had already found his fortune in Paris when he opened the first Ritz Hotel eight years prior. It became a new bastion of British luxury: French chateau style architecture, plush furnishing, a bathroom for each hotel room and bed frames made from brass rather than wood. In a bout of humility, Mr Ritz once said his London hotel was a “house to which I am proud to see my name attached.”

During the war years, the hotel reached new heights in vogue. It became a place for the upper crust to meet, to drink and to live. The Albanian royal family moved in, so too did royals from Denmark, Luxembourg and Norway. (The Albanian royals took an entire floor to themselves. Rumour had it they paid their bills with their country’s gold reserves and had their own private air raid shelter installed).

In the Marie Antoinette Suite, history was written as Churchill, de Gaulle and Eisenhower, over candlelight and under furrowed brows, plotted the Allies’ next move. In a basement bar below the hotel meanwhile, the Pink Sink swung on as a social space for the gay community. Today the same space is an underground casino, though no longer owned by The Ritz.

Despite falling shells – one narrowly missed the hotel and shattered several windows in its blast – cocktail hour ticked on. In this bubble of the West End front, the war was fought on the dance floor with a cocktail in hand. Patriotism took the form of swilling gin and stared adversity in the teeth. Even the threat of Nazi rule could not dampen polite debauchery at The Ritz.