If you head to Marylebone's Chiltern Street, a cute little central London street lined with petite shops like luxe French candlemaker Cire Trudon and beauty therapy haven, Bharti Vyas, you'll notice that the long locked up, gothic, imposing, red brick fire station is under intensive building work right now.
Hotel industry folks in the know, are near hysterical at what's being done to that fire station, since it's now well on its way to becoming the first London (and European) hotel to be opened by famously stylish hotelier, André Balazs.
Balazs, 55, got into the hotel industry back in 1990 when he acquired Hollywood's legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. The Chateau (as it's informally called) first opened in 1927 and by the time Balazs bought it, had chalked up an almost mythical A to Z of wild Hollywood stories between its walls, the jawdropping-est of which include Blues Brothers' star John Belushi overdosing in one of the hotel's suites, photographer Helmut Newton dying when his car crashed into a wall as he drove out of the hotel and perhaps best of all, Led Zeppelin riding their motorcycles around the hotel's lobby one evening.
With all those on-the-edge anecdotes written into the hotel's impeccable identity, no wonder uber cool, stylish filmmaker Sofia Coppola chose to set her fourth film, Somewhere, about a listless, stalled Hollywood actor, inside the Chateau.
Under Balazs' management, the Chateau remains a gloriously faded hideout and meeting place for actors, actresses, directors, producers, musicians and writers. Just the other week, for instance, the writer Bret Easton Ellis (Less The Zero, American Psycho) tweeted about having dinner at the Chateau with fellow literary bad boy James Frey (A Million Little Pieces). It made both of them seem impeccably cool and Easton Ellis knew this full well: that's why he tweeted about it. For the same reason, Lana Del Rey included footage of actress Paz De La Huerta coming out of the Chateau late at night, in her Video Games promo. It's understood in Hollywood, that any association with the Chateau Marmont's mythical brand taps immense PR magic dust.
While much of this star power can be chalked up to the hotel's ancedotally fantastical celebrity history, a fair share is also down to André Balazs' supreme understanding of how to make a hotel effortlessly cool. When I stayed at the Chateau a little over a year ago, I asked reception when I checked in, what time breakfast is served and was told, "Oh, whenever you wake up."
That, in a nutshell, is Andre Balazs' entire philosophy for how a hotel should run and treat its guests. To that strategic ambience, he adds what he calls a lot of "cultural content", which is to say that if you stay at any of the other successful hotels he's gone on to open, including the Mercer (New York), Sunset Beach (Long Island) and the highly successful Standard Hotel chain (there are now five: two in Los Angeles, one in Miami, two in New York), you're likely to encounter a mini-show in the lobby by an artist, DJs working a crowd at the rooftop bars, a reading by an author or a film being projected onto the walls of neighbouring buildings.
In short, Balazs is king at making the hotel experience anything but a comfortable bed to crash in.
For this reason, his hotel restaurants and bars are always teeming with locals, non-guests: regardless of which city and which hotel, these are always places to be seen. Friends of mine in Los Angeles routinely head to the Standard in Downtown LA for a night at the rooftop bar. They took me there once: the views over lit up Downtown LA were absolutely breathtaking. You feel like you're on top of the world and time seems immaterial. In curating experiences like this, Balazs offers hotels that are so much more than mere hotels.
All of which explains the mounting hysteria at the prospect of an André Balazs hotel opening a stone's throw off London's increasingly French boutique-lined Marylebone High Street.
According to a Balazs spokesperson, the as yet unnamed hotel will not be a Standard, but instead a petite 36-room hotel with a far "higher price point" (read: room rate) than the Standard Hotels.
It's pencilled in to open its doors in 2013, after which it's bound to replicate the same Balazs effect here and become London's very first Hollywood hotel.
Yes, everyone knows that the Columbia hotel in Lancaster Gate, is where the bands stay and yes, everyone knows the movie stars and serious rock and pop stars, stay at Claridge's, but this André Balazs hotel, with its imposing Chateau Marmont-esque gothic mysteriousness, will undoubtedly become London's hippest hotel to stay in, hang out in, be wild in.