This year marks 150 since the Hotel Café Royal, a member of The SET Hotels, first opened its doors. Among its earliest patrons was Oscar Wilde—in his wake would follow Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, Bridget Bardot, and countless other cultural luminaries. In 2012, the Hotel Café Royal reopened after an extensive renovation by architect David Chipperfield, illustrating the truth of one of Wilde’s famous quotes: “What is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.” Here’s a look at some sites in London associated with the writer whose barbed wit and poetic insights feel as relevant today as ever.
34 Tite Street
Wilde lived with his wife and sons in a red brick rowhouse in Chelsea, just up the street from the Thames and a short walk from the Chelsea Physic Garden. During his lifetime, the address was 16 Tite Street though it has since been renumbered as 34—you’ll know you’ve found the place by the English Heritage blue plaque. The house is not open to the public.
Hotel Café Royal
One of Wilde’s most popular quotes, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” would have rung true for the founder of the Hotel Café Royal. Daniel Nicholas Thévenon, a French wine merchant, arrived in London fleeing creditors in Paris. He then established the Café Royal which soon became famous for both its wine cellar and the mix of artists, writers, and society figures who gathered in the gilded space. In 2012, the Café Royal reopened for a second act as a 160-room hotel following a four-year renovation.
The Royal Arcade
Mayfair’s Royal Arcade has been the home of some of London’s most elegant shops since it opened in 1879. The florist where Wilde purchased his trademark green carnations has closed, but other stores here will appeal to modern men with an appreciation of sartorial splendor and Saville Row tailoring.
James J. Fox
The James J. Fox Cigar Merchant, where Wilde was a loyal customer, has been operating from its location on St. James Street since 1787. The man who said that “moderation is a fatal thing,” smoked nearly 100 cigarettes a day—many purchased from this store.
Only a decade younger than James J Fox, having been founded in 1797, Hatchards on Piccadilly Street holds the title of England’s oldest bookstore. Many of the country’s leading literary figures of the last two centuries, including Wilde, have come here to peruse the latest titles—their own and rivals’.