We’re the first guests of the new season so the Veuve Clicquot is on ice. Just in time for sunshiny days, The Dorchester Rooftop has reopened for those who like to see the bigger picture, or at least take in a sweeping panorama of the better half of the Capital. We’re going up in the world: a lift to the ninth floor of the hotel opens into a former penthouse which is now a suite of lounges with pleated satin hung walls, deep pile carpet and velvet sofas. The Rooftop Restaurant sweeps around the lounges.
Like Selfridges, that other great Beaux Artsbehemoth cathedral to commerce, Victoria House confidently swallows up a whole urban block. An architectural display of imperialism with balls of stone commanding attention along one full sweep of Bloomsbury Square, the (breathe in) di style in antis Ionic Erechtheion portico (breathe out) soars heavenward on giant columns through the upper floors to a pediment boxed in by the mother of all parapets below a monster green slate triple mansard. All this is so emphatic. Incidentally it was used as a setting for the television series Mr Selfridge. Again incidentally it is faced with Portland stone from the same quarry as St Paul’s Cathedral. Back in the day, or year, 1926 to be exact, the architect Charles William Long’s brief was to “add to the dignity and beauty of the metropolis”. Something we’re not averse to doing either.
Amazingly the interiors remain virtually intact. Entrance lobbies on all four sides are faced in Subiaco marble, decorated Greek style, dressed up to the nines with brass detailing and capped by coffered ceilings. Three halls with sprung floors for dancing are slotted between the panelled offices. The south hall is now called The Bloomsbury Ballroom. It’s a picture of a fabulous age, a place for roarers and flappers. Is that Alabama Beggs shimmying across the shadows? Seamus Heaney believed, “If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.” Conversely we reckon if architecture and the arts do anything, they can fortify your social life, your waywardness. Smash the carapace. Have a ball. And so, an invitation to a glittering world of Divine Comedy Decadence, an exploration of the darker side of paradise, utopia displacing dystopia, delving into a phantasmagoria, transcending into a transmogrification, proves irresistible.
Turner Prize nominee Tris Vonna-Michell “creates circuitous, multi-layered narratives, characterised by fragments of information, detours and repetitions, designed to confuse and enlighten in equal measure.” The same could be said for the bars off the ballroom. The 32 metre Long Bar lives up to its name. So does the Crush Bar: we’re shoulder to shoulder with the air kissing crowd. “Things are always unnoticed until they’re noticed,” declared Tesco Chairman Sir Richard Broadbent, hell bent on stating something or other of consequence. “A monument to our creativity and a brilliant day out,” assertively commented Tony Blair on the Millennium Dome in the days before irony. Returning to paraphraseology we enthusiastically say The Bloomsbury Ballroom is a noticeable monument to our creativity and a brilliant night out. A dignified and beautiful ballroom of one’s own.