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When the SmartFlyer team stepped foot in Raffles London at The OWO in July 2023 for a preview of the property, the first thing that struck us was the sheer size of its footprint.
Upon entry to the trapezoidal, neo-Baroque building spanning an entire city block in London’s Whitehall district, we were greeted by a scaled model of the labyrinth of wonder this historic building encompasses. Mere months later, Princess Anne was standing before the very same model at the destination’s star-studded opening party, an event akin to a jubilee in the city’s buzziest neighborhoods. Raffles London at the OWO’s grand entrance to the metropolis’ scene marked a declaration they would be adding a new dimension to an area primarily recognized as the epicenter of the British government.
After being inaccessible to the public for more than a hundred years, the former Old War Office fully opened on September 29th, 2023 as The OWO. Guests are sure to be delighted by the reimagining of this iconic landmark; with $1.76 billion dollars invested throughout its seven-year restoration, Raffles London tactfully melds The Old War Office (OWO)’s impressive history with modern British flair. But there’s more than thoughtful nods to the past––the property has skillfully created a stage for modern tastemakers.
Raffles Hotels Makes its U.K. Debuthi
As the first hotel in the United Kingdom for Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Raffles London at The OWO brings something unique to the London hotel scene: it acts as a world of its own. Raffles strives to create a place of cultural happenings where tiny moments become lasting impressions. Their aim is for clients to arrive as guests, leave as friends, return as family, and for some, even go so far as calling The OWO home–of its private residences, only a handful of the eighty-five are left for purchase. Their first foray into the U.K. has allowed the Raffles brand to blend British etiquette with culinary intelligentsia.
With The OWO’s impressive nine restaurants, three bars, a four-floor Guerlain spa, and 120 spacious rooms and suites, you could stay here for days without ever leaving…and trust us, despite your best intentions to go out on the town, you just might. While we adore London’s robust cultural offerings, there is something to be said for a city property that acts more like a resort, especially for those checking in for a romantic retreat, R&R, or even solo time to recenter.
Location, Location, Location
Situated in a sophisticated neighborhood, Raffles London is in the heart of many of London’s most sought-after spots. The River Thames, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, No. 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, and the Royal Opera House are all within walking distance of the hotel. Raffles London’s location also offers a prime vantage point for the changing of the Horse Guards, which takes place every day at eleven o’clock just opposite the hotel. From The Guards Bar and Lounge – a sumptuous wood-paneled space – guests and non-guests alike can station themselves for coffee, champagne, or a cocktail to see this iconic British ceremony.
Interior Design by Thierry Despont
Speaking of the Changing the Guard, this cultural tradition served as inspiration for Raffles London’s design. As a nod to the Horse Guard uniforms worn each day by officers across the street, lush red curtains line the hotel hallways. Details from fabrics to furniture and fixture choices across the hotel were a part of one of the final projects of the late famed designer Thierry Despont. Despont’s legacy is woven across many landmark building transformations – including the flagship Cartier store on Fifth Avenue, Statue of Liberty and he brought his discerning eye for elegance to the re-envisioning of Raffles London.
Perhaps one of the materials most notable throughout the property is its sumptuous marble. From flawless black marble bathrooms found in certain suites to The Grand Staircase sculpted from timeless white marble that welcomes guests upon entry, the five expansive floors of the hotel exude endless character. One of our favorite historical accounts about the Old War Office centers on The Grand Staircase; back in the early twentieth century, only those with high rank could ascend the stairs while everyone else – spies, secretaries, and messengers – had to resort to the backstairs. Today, when you check-in, a walk through The Grand Staircase is an essential part of the arrival experience for all guests.
The Glorious Heritage Suites
Some of the standout features across the 120 rooms including thirty-nine suites include carefully curated artwork, modern in-room technology (think: iPad-operated curtains), and hand-laid mosaic floors. Beyond forward-thinking tech, a stay here gives guests a glimpse into history right from the comfort of their accommodations. For starters, select suites have meticulously restored antique fireplaces from the early 1900s.
These spaces were formerly offices of influential political and military leaders including Sir Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, and Sir Richard Haldane, and have since been passionately preserved to their former glory. Today, they offer spectacular views paired with awe-inspiring history.
Further, some of the most historically significant areas of the building are concentrated across its five Heritage Suites. These spaces were formerly offices of influential political and military leaders including Sir Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, and Sir Richard Haldane, and have since been passionately preserved to their former glory. Today, they offer spectacular views paired with awe-inspiring history. A number of these suites are available for reservation through your SmartFlyer agent in combinable configurations that allow for up to six-bedroom suites comfortably hosting twelve guests.
Additionally, Raffles London offers eight Corner Suites nestled into its majestic turrets overlooking Whitehall with unparalleled views over the Horse Guards and St. James’s Park. Our most beloved detail is that these special suites were named after notable female spies, and Churchill’s beloved wife, Clementine. In doing so, Raffles London nods to the UK’s long list of influential women, all the while staying true to the narrative of the building it calls home.
An Urban Sanctuary with Wellness at Its Heart
If there’s one thing we can say with certainty, it’s that Raffles London takes wellness seriously; the property has a spa that spans four levels, creating an urban sanctuary for holistic well-being. This thoughtful design and the practitioners who bring it to life strike a balance between sumptuous indulgence and bespoke treatments. We love the “Royal Glow Tech Facial,” a results-driven treatment developed for Raffles London that combines the power of microdermabrasion with photo-biomodulation light therapy.
Guerlain products are used throughout its nine treatment suites, bolstered by L’Atelier Guerlain which offers beauty treatments and a highly curated boutique. Additionally, the spa offers a vitality pool, sauna, and steam room to be enjoyed pre- or post-treatment. For fitness junkies, the twenty-meter indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art gym, movement studio, and nutrition and recovery programs developed by Pillar Wellbeing will delight. We love the Pillar Kitchen which has healthy (guilt-free!) treats for those on the go.
Created for the Most Discerning of Epicureans
With a diverse range of offerings across its nine restaurants and three bars, The OWO and Raffles London take dining and imbibing to a new level of cool. Acclaimed chef Mauro Colagreco helms three of the restaurants, including Mauro’s Table, a private dining room with views over Whitehall paired with an exceptional show kitchen. Raffles London is also home to The Drawing Room and The Guards Bar and Lounge – here, London’s rich history shines. With many of the restaurants set within the building’s most historical rooms, eclectic dining experiences are sure to dazzle against these staggering settings.
Fancy a martini?
Perhaps the highlight of our preview of this property prior to its opening was once we went subterranean. In the most unexpected of locations, The Spy Bar is hidden in the depths of the Old War Office. This part of the hotel used to serve as a bunker, and today, has been converted into a speakeasy. Intelligence officers are said to have shared celebratory drinks here after successful missions, and today, hotel guests can order a martini beneath a surprise fixture from the Bond films that will leave them in awe. Is that a Vesper calling your name?
History for the Road
Still curious how The Old War Office became the former home of M16 and the birthplace of James Bond? The story begins with the British government commissioning the building to centralize the offices for top army brass and secretaries of state for war. Construction was finished in 1906 and the first formal meeting of the Secret Service Bureau (SSB) happened in the basement – yes, where the Spy Bar now sits! – in September 1909. Both M15 (the Security Service) and MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) lie in the SSB in efforts to safeguard foreign missions and domestic counterintelligence.