Just so you know, you’re not staying in a hotel when you stay at Clerkenwell’s Zetter Townhouse. Instead you’re lodging at the home of your beloved, slightly dotty Great Aunt Wilhelmina – 200 years ago. She travels the world picking up souvenirs: taxidermy, Oriental rugs and tinctures in dark brown bottles to display throughout her 13-bedroom Clerkenwell residence.
When you walk in, the focal point is not a check-in desk. It’s a big apothecary-style counter, full of homemade cordials and infusions. This is Great Aunt Wilhelmina’s front room, and she likes to entertain. A member of her staff hands you a sweet gin cocktail – The Flintlock – with a bang. Literally: a small explosion on the side of the glass complements the gunpowder tea tincture in it (she’s got molecular drinks scene don Tony Conigliaro on board to design the cocktail menu).
A short walk from central London, The Zetter Townhouse is a local hotspot for its Cocktail Lounge alone – half its clientele are locals. Walls are a deep, rich red that’s mostly covered with a mishmash of paintings, from matronly portraits to British bulldogs stencilled over the Union Jack. Under a glass tabletop are relics of a British upbringing: OXO cubes, shells, 30cm rulers.
Upstairs, rooms are the definition of cosy, with extra blankets and hot water bottles in knitted covers on the Egyptian cotton sheets of four-poster beds. Décor is the same as downstairs, eclectic British through the decades, peppered with wit, and a tastefully executed pattern-clash (stripy carpet, Persian rug, fabrics William Morris would approve of). There are pre-mixed Zetter cocktails in the minibar, and some (pricey) East London Liquor Company spirits and mixing apparatus should you feel inspired.
Black-and-white tiled bathrooms, with huge, comfortable baths and REN products, including a little face mask and night cream, seal the deal. However, the wifi wasn’t powerful enough to enjoy the in-room TV streaming services (Netflix, iPlayer and the like) on our visit. Service is pretty immediate, though, and breakfasts are decent – you can go across the courtyard to the main part of The Zetter hotel and pay a bit extra for a cooked one, if the continental one in the Cocktail Lounge doesn’t cut the Marmite (yes, there’s Marmite). If you can make yourself get up from the seriously comfy marshmallow-like beds, that is.
Time Out tip
Being right by Smithfield meat market, Clerkenwell has some good eating for carnivores: not least the casual Michelin-starred nose-to-tail joint St John, serving up pheasant and trotter pie to follow entrées of crispy pig skin and dandelion. Then cosy up with an ale by the open fire at The Jerusalem Tavern for a proper old-feeling pub, with interiors dating back to the eighteenth century.