The Irish are travel birds. There’s probably not a spot on the globe where they haven’t touched down and built a nest or two. And finding corners of Ireland even in the most obscure places is always a fun travel thing to do.
On a trip to London late last year, I stayed at the Cadogan Hotel, which proved the perfect spot for an Irish-tinged weekend (I was in London to attend the premiere of Doubt by Irish American writer John Patrick Shanley).
Located at 75 Sloane Street, the Cadogan exudes Old World charm with a hint of Edwardian decadence, and it has an Irish connection to boot. It was here that Irish playwright and author Oscar Wilde was arrested in 1895.
Wilde lived a couple of blocks away on Tite Street, and he was a frequent visitor to the hotel, where today a suite is named in his honor. (There is also an Edward VII Suite, named to celebrate the future King of England’s liaisons with Oscar’s close friend, the actress Lillie Langtry.)
The Oscar Wilde Suite is an experience of sumptuous luxury. Large and airy, with a huge bed, velvet-covered duvet, padded headboard, marble bathroom, and a dressing area where the closet reveals a smoking jacket à la Oscar. It is in fact a replica of the one the writer is wearing in a photograph with Bosie (Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the youthful lover who was Wilde’s downfall) that hangs in the room.
The photograph of Oscar Wilde in the suite is the only one of him that I came across in the hotel. The celebrated beauty Lillie Langtry has more of a presence – the restaurant is named in her honor. (I had a wonderful dinner there – Fisherman’s Pie with bread pudding for dessert.)
Langtry (Wilde helped launch her theatrical career) lived at the property from 1892 to 1897. She sold the house, in 1895, to the Cadogan Estate, but retained her bedroom and living quarters.
As Richard Ellman says in his biography of Wilde, “She welcomed [Wilde] as a friend. For him, her beauty was a ‘form of genius.’ He was engaged in the same storming of London by his wits that she was achieving by her looks. Then too, they were both weary, Wilde of being an over-age undergraduate, Mrs. Langtry of being the wife to a nondescript Irish yachtsman, and both eager to perform on a larger stage.”
Langtry divorced her husband Edward, the son of an Irish land-owning family from Belfast, and went on to great fame and fortune – she even owned a winery in California at one point.
Wilde went to jail.
Found guilty of “acts of gross indecency with other male persons,” he was sentenced to two years of hard labor. He emerged from prison in 1897 in poor health and died three years later in Paris.
The Cadogan is light on Wilde memorabilia. However, the lounge bar (now completely refurbished) has its resident historian and storyteller. John — one would hesitate to call him a server — he would be perfectly cast as an upper-class butler — regaled me with stories of the history of the hotel, Wilde, and his friendship with Lillie Langtry. Meanwhile, the staff of the hotel was most welcoming and helpful, particularly Richie at the front desk, whose mother is from Monaghan, and Fabio, the unflappable Italian manager.
The Cadogan, which has 65 rooms and suites, tennis courts, a private garden, and conference and banqueting facilities, is the perfect place to stay in London – and if you are not seduced by the Old World charm and connection with Wilde and Langtry, perhaps you will be seduced by Gucci, Tiffany, Harrods, and Harvey Nichols, by the 24-hour pulse of the West End and by the grand luxe of this most decadent of Edwardian hotels.
For more information on the Cadogan visit www.cadogan.com or telephone + 44 207 235 7141