In many ways, the Zetter Townhouse is the quintessential British hotel: quiet and unobtrusive from the outside, playful and witty within. Its exterior is the picture of buttoned-up gentility, a handsome Georgian townhouse at the far end of St John’s Square in London’s low-key Clerkenwell neighborhood. Step inside, however, and you’re transported to the imagined world of Aunt Wilhelmina, an eccentric old dame from the 18th century, who modern-day designer Russell Sage used as his inspiration to create the fanciful space that greets you. Aunt Wilhelmina clearly had a thing for taxidermy, because stuffed animals are found in every corner—including a kangaroo sporting boxing gloves, and a quizzical cockatoo poised above the fireplace in the main lounge. This space forms the heart of the hotel—a rich room of deep reds and damask wallpapers. It’s lavished in crystal chandeliers, reclaimed furniture, and mismatched art pieces, which climb up the walls in a wonderfully haphazard fashion. By day, the lounge serves a country-style farmhouse breakfast. By night, it becomes a lively cocktail bar, where heritage concoctions such as the gin-based Nettle Gimlet hark back to Aunt Wilhelmina’s day. Drink it all in, then head upstairs to one of 13 equally imaginative rooms, many with views of the cobblestone square in front.
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Under-the-radar Clerkenwell is known among Londoners as a smart residential neighborhood that’s also home to numerous design and architecture firms. It’s off the tourist map and all the better for it. In the last decade, the area has developed a burgeoning restaurant scene, spearheaded by the Modern Pantry, next door to the hotel, and St. John, a pioneer of the nose-to-tail dining concept. There’s also the ever-popular Exmouth Market, home to brunch favorite Caravan, and historic meat market Smithfield. Nearby cultural venues include Sadler’s Wells Theatre and the Barbican arts center. Grab the hotel’s free “Map of Fun” for a handy list of local places.
Need to Know
Rooms: 13 rooms, including two suites. From $417. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: The townhouse’s listed status means a kitchen couldn’t be added, so only breakfast is served on site. But the team behind the townhouse includes Mark Sainsbury, son of supermarket tycoon Lord Sainsbury, and Michael Benyan, an Australian who first teamed up with Mark to open the lauded restaurants Moro and Grain Store—both nearby and worth checking out. Their first hotel, the Zetter, sits just across the square, complete with its celebrated Bistrot Bruno Loubet restaurant, from the Michelin-starred French chef. The proximity means that townhouse guests can call in for lunch and dinner, or pop across for breakfast at no extra cost. Spa and gym details: This is a boutique hotel where life revolves around cocktails, not cross-trainers. It does, however, offer complimentary Brompton bikes for guests to use
Who's it for: Those in the sartorial know. The hotel’s bar draws crowds during London Fashion Week and the area’s annual Clerkenwell Design Week. Our favorite rooms: Each of the 13 rooms has its own character, but for a colorful option, go for number 10. The bed’s headboard is part of an old fairground carousel, and its slanted top-floor windows gaze down onto the square in front. Bar secrets: For off-the-menu cocktails, seek out head barman Steve Penack. If he’s not there, Roberta Mariani has the lowdown on the stories behind the drinks.