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Review: Gleneagles Townhouse

A legendary members’ club that functions as a chic boutique hotel.
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Why book?

This is ostensibly—though not entirely—a members’ club. Yet in most—though not quite all—respects it also functions as a normal hotel. Non-members can dine in the restaurant (spectacular), stay in the rooms (delightful), and get squiffy in the rooftop bar (terrific). In fact, there are only a few things that overnighting non-members cannot do. Hanging out in the first-floor members-only lounge, the Note Burning Room, happens to be one of them; and this is a great pity, because the Note Burning Room is absolutely and without question the loveliest room in the entire place. A reason in itself to become a member.

Set the scene

Two adjacent buildings on the easterly side of spick-and-span St Andrew Square, both of them tall and grand, though one of them taller and grander than the other (accounting for the higgledy-piggledy difficulty in moving between the two when you are inside). St Andrew Square is a picture—its gates only relatively recently opened to the public, its tidily trimmed lawn dominated by a disproportionately high column bearing the likeness of Henry Dundas, a ghastly chap responsible for the deaths of more than half a million Africans in the slave trade. A newly added plaque explains his presence without excusing it.

The backstory

Everyone knows all about the original Gleneagles, in rural Perthshire, which has long been the stuff of legend. Acquired by Ennismore in 2015, it was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and an invigorating blast or two from those zappy paddles they slap onto unconscious people’s chests in ER just before they yell “Clear!” And it worked. The place has surely never looked better or felt more lively than it does today. In the Townhouse you can perceive a family resemblance—a certain tilt of the head, an appealing crookedness of the nose—though in terms of temperament—as well as scale, tone, and emphasis—she is very much her own person.

The rooms

The Townhouse’s 33 rooms are available to members and non-members alike. Book a room as a civilian and you automatically become almost a member, with many of the privileges that come with membership. Though all suitably and pleasingly styled to their setting—approximately Victorian with some Art Deco-ish flourishes and lots of pastel-toned scalloped velvety shapes—there is considerable variety among them in terms of size and aspect. Overnighters who are charmed by teensy-weensy attic spaces with low ceilings and dormer windows overlooking the neighbours’ rooftops will love the Nook-category rooms. Those craving a little more space and a more expansive view—and not averse to some muted tram rattle and bleeping in the street outside—will prefer the Masters. There is also a category, House, in between.

Food and drink

The all-day restaurant on the ground floor, The Spence (Scottish for larder), is fabulous. More than fabulous—stupendous. The space is astonishing, all columns and cupola, and the size of a cricket ground. Head chef Jonny Wright and sommelier Elizabeth Mellish deliver the bistro-brasserie-superior goods con brio. Beef tartare. Roast chicken. Biodynamic wines. Baked Alaska. The top-floor bar, Lamplighters, overseen by the unflappable and encyclopaedically well-informed Stef Anderson, is a bijou treasure with an epic roof terrace.

The spa

A work in progress but shaping up nicely, as one would hope to do oneself in such an environment. The facilities are immaculate, packed with gleaming Technogym contraptions. Also studios, spa treatment rooms, a cryotherapy chamber, and an infra-red sauna. A constantly changing program of guest gurus promises to keep the endorphins pumping.

The neighborhood

Glorious, in that particular Edinburgh way. Or rather, in one of the two particular Edinburgh ways—both the medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage listing for their outstanding contributions to sheer loveliness in the built environment. Walking distance from most of the hot spots—cultural, culinary, and otherwise. Do pay a visit to the marvelous Collective art space, up on Calton Hill. If you can tear yourself away from The Spence, try Noto on nearby Thistle Street.

The service

Warm, youthful, energized. Senior staff members are notable for their presence—you see them all the time; they remember your name; they are actively solicitous of your well-being and will, if you encourage them to do so, take time to chat. This is more impressive and less common than it might sound. The concierge team can sort out private tours of the Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh Castle, the Johnnie Walker Experience, and Jupiter Artland sculpture park. Personal-shopping safaris and off-site fitness larks are likewise easily fixed.

For families

Three adjoining rooms. No roll-out or fold-out beds, but cots that fit in House and Master rooms are available on request. There are fun presents for the bairns on arrival, as well as bathroom goodies, wee robes and slippers, and a special kids’ menu in The Spence.

Eco effort

Thoughtful and far-reaching. The four-and-a-half-year renovation and rebuilding phase allowed for predictable but welcome improvements to the energy efficiency of these historic buildings, as well as the cultivation of relationships with trusted partners and suppliers. In the kitchens and bars, strong emphasis is placed on seasonal and super-locally sourced produce and products (the minibars provide a particularly striking illustration of this commitment). Bathroom amenities and even the tweed in the staff uniforms likewise come with impeccable provenance. In-room recycling bins encourage guests, too, to do the right thing.

Accessibility for those with mobility impairments

All areas are accessible via a wheelchair-accessible entrance and lift. Two bedrooms with accessible bathrooms. Accessible bathrooms off the main lobby, in the basement wellness areas, and in the rooftop Lamplighters bar.

Anything left to mention?

If you can figure out a reliable and humane way to stop the seagulls from sitting on the heads of the august stone statues that dominate the view from the roof terrace, the management will weep for joy and the local council will probably give you the keys to the city.

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