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Marble Arch Inn (London)

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49-50 Upper Berkeley Street / Marble Arch, / London / W1H 5QR.

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      12.06.2006 23:10
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      Deceptively presented online - avoid like the plague

      Of all the cities in all the countries of the world, London must operate one of the most thriving hotel lotteries. Location, name, and price are all often irrelevant in your search for somewhere to kip down for the night because you can spend a fortune and find a fleapit. Overnight stays in London hotels are few and far between for me these days, but I’ve adopted a new, rather more random approach to finding somewhere to sleep, focusing closely on budget in a move to be a good corporate citizen (and protect my annual bonus.)

      The Marble Arch Inn looked perfectly satisfactory in the picture (shown as part of the product category heading on these pages) but let me tell you that the reality was somewhat removed from this. If ever the old adage “you get what you were pay for” were appropriate then it would be here.

      Tucked away along Upper Berkeley Street, just off the Edgware Road, the inn’s location is enviable. Within a ten minute walking distance, you will find major London tourist attractions, the expanse of Hyde Park, the shops of Bond and Oxford Street and a host of bars, restaurants and cafes. The area is a bustle of activity, residents and tourists alike and the hotel is extremely well placed for any visitor to the capital interested in these things. The hotel has no car parking facilities (it occupies a terraced location off the street) but is easily accessed via the Underground or several bus routes.

      The area is semi-respectable at best. The Edgware Road itself has a wide array of ethnic restaurants, shops and bars, and the noise and bustle continues late into the evening / night. Whilst the luxury of Selfridge’s and other top class boutiques is easily within walking distance, the local shops are generally twenty-four supermarkets, newsagents and gift shops. Café culture is, however, very popular in this area and within a short walk, you will find many bars, pubs and cafes serving food and drinks outside and indoors. This is not a hotel to be visited for a quiet, classy break. But as a stopping point for a whistle stop tour or shopping expedition, it certainly had promise.

      My taxi driver and I had already been sharing jokes about dodgy hotels on the way to the hotel, and when we arrived, we couldn’t really help laughing at the ramshackle exterior. In all fairness to the hotel’s owners, the hotel is undergoing something of a makeover, but the complete absence of the original porch was rather amusing. As I approached the entrance way, something screamed “fleapit” at me, and after I’d made my way in, the voice wasn’t getting any quieter.

      The door to the hotel is never unlocked and you can only get in by buzzing the buzzer and “knocking politely” on the window, as a hand-written paper note advised. The reception area was reminiscent of a seaside bed and breakfast, with an old-fashioned desk, booming foreign music and a mass of tourist information leaflets everywhere. The receptionist was polite enough, even if her very strange voice made her rather difficult to understand. Worryingly, they had been waiting for me (clearly, bookings were few and far between) and within barely twenty seconds, I’d been checked in. Room keys are from the old school, complete with enormous room numbered key fob to try and discourage you from taking the key out with you (you’d need a suitcase to do so, to be honest). There were printed notices advertising phone cards, foreign exchange facilities and warning of thieves and pickpockets whilst out and about. A pile of laminate flooring (still boxed) indicated that some redecoration was underway, but anywhere above the ground floor was still covered in a worn, musty-looking carpet. As I climbed the stairs to third floor, my heart sank further and further, particularly when I saw the communal shower and toilets, and I assumed that my assumption that the rooms were all en-suite was misplaced.

      I was wrong. My room did have a bathroom, but we’ll come back to that in a minute. The bedroom door was open as I approached, propped open with a stool to try and let a breeze in (the weather was swelteringly hot). The room was unsurprisingly tired and unimpressive. There was barely enough room for the double bed, with a small bedside table, bizarre half-sized wardrobe and a portable television set mounted on wall brackets. In all fairness, everything was clean and respectable (the white cotton bedding was spotless) but looked as though it had seen better days. Obvious past problems with theft seemed to have made the owners ultra-cautious and so everything that could be stolen (including kettle, remote control and room fan) was chained or tied up. A small fridge occupied one corner of the room for reasons that later became clear.

      The bathroom (if you can call if that) was quite easily the most hilarious thing I have ever seen in a hotel. It was so small that you had to step into the shower to shut the door. The shower was approximately forty centimetres in diameter, with a dirty shower curtain that would have given CSI a field day. There was no water pressure to the shower, and you either had the choice of a scalding hot dribble or a freezing cold one. The room was so small, and so poorly ventilated that there was a strong, damp smell within and it was quite a relief to get out. The bedroom itself was better-ventilated (via a sash window) but still stiflingly hot.

      The hotel has no catering / dining facilities, which was a slight puzzle because my room rate had been quoted as bed and breakfast. This was soon explained by the inaudible receptionist, who advised that you should collect your breakfast in the evening, so that you could chill it (in that weird fridge) overnight. She then proceeded to give me a battered plastic bowl, plopped a carton of long life orange juice in it, a carton of long life milk, a mini box of corn flakes and vile-looking long life yoghurt. Although I placed my bowl inside the mini-fridge I never retrieved it and nor did I ever have any intention of doing so.

      Amazingly, some common niggles of cheap London hotels didn’t manifest themselves here. The room didn’t back onto a noisy air conditioning unit. The rooms were fairly well sound-proofed and I wasn’t aware of thousands of illegal immigrants living in the loft. On the downside, however, room security was a real issue as the door locks could easily have been forced with a slightly hefty nudge and it was difficult to come to and fro in any kind of discreet manner as you had to get the receptionists to let you in and out. The hotel was clearly very popular with foreign travellers with (badly-written) letters of thanks displayed in the hallway and I started to feel uncomfortable alongside streams of (rather hostile-looking) foreigners.

      So how did I end up here? Well, I had a bet with a friend of mine that I could get a return rail fare at off-peak times, a bed for the night, evening meal, drinks and taxis to and from our meeting for less than her day return from Manchester. I was right. At £39 for the night, bed and rotten breakfast, plus some cheapie tickets via www.trainline.com, I still had plenty of room for a tasty steak dinner and three cocktails and came in at £40 less in total. (Standard rates can be a bit more though so don’t assume this rate.)

      Bets and joking aside, however, I would never do it again. It doesn’t matter what the price is, the Marble Arch Inn is rotten, through and through. The facilities are primitive, the staff inherently creepy and you get this feeling that at any moment the police are going to raid the room next door for a terrorist cell. As I left the hotel in the morning, it was something of a relief to be walking away and it would take a big bribe to get me to go anywhere near the place again.

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    • Product Details

      Centrally located in London, this friendly hotel is close to the financial centres and near to most of the major tourist attractions of the city. The hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms ensuring your stay is a relaxing and enjoyable one.