The Savoy hotel on the Strand in London offers a slice of history that goes beyond the ambience and the patina furniture. It was the love nest of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, and it was in those rooms that Winston Churchill decided to assemble his private political club and hold what would be his last public speech there. The prestige of this great establishment is further enhanced by a guest list that includes, among others, Edward VII, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, The Beatles, Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor.
Currently managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resort, it reopened its doors to 267 rooms in 2010 after three years of refurbishment. The history of The Savoy begins in 1889 when theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte decided to build Britain’s first luxury hotel, combining opulence, Victorian tradition and innovation with light, electric elevators and hot and cold water.
Like a true showman, he deeply understood the importance of entertainment to attract the public. After all, the major celebrities of the time, along with the nobility, were the stars of the stage and actress Sarah Bernhardt, accompanied by her Irish red setter Tosco, was one of the first to become a regular visitor.
The Savoy has never lacked guests as legendary as they are bizarre. The American millionaire George Kessler, known for his extravagant parties, in 1905 invented the Gondola Party. The central courtyard was purposefully flooded to recreate the Grand Canal of Venice, with a gondola holding a table for 24 people and a bridge erected for access by guests, waiters and the elephant carrying a cake on its back to the melodies sung by the greatest tenor of the time, Enrico Caruso.
Out of all the special guests, there is one that is ever-present, Kaspar the cat. It all began in 1898 when the mining magnate Woolf Joel invited 14 people to dinner. Following a no-show, there were only 13 guests present, which prompted a woman among those in attendance to declare that the first person to leave the table would be dead.
And so it came to pass only a few weeks later when the tycoon himself was shot dead. From that moment on, the hotel seated a staff member at any tables with 13 guests, until 1926 when the architect Basil Ionides carved the statue of Kaspar, the black cat and fourteenth diner who is served each course with a napkin tied around his neck.
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Article edit by Lucrezia Doria