Hotel Insider: Mondrian London Is the Sleekest Ship-Themed Spot

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You make a reservation, but you don’t know what a hotel is really like until you stay there. There are hundreds of thousands of hotels worldwide, and with new ones opening every day, it’s impossible to know what you’re going to get. Yahoo Travel takes the guessing out of your reservation by going inside some of the world’s most popular hotels.

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(Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

The hotel: With that “new hotel” smell still fresh, Mondrian London at Sea Containers recently marked its first anniversary as a celebrated entry in London’s hotel scene. Now an established presence in its South Bank neighborhood, the 359-room Mondrian London is making a play to appeal to American visitors looking for a sleek, hip property that celebrates the UK’s fine maritime tradition, establishes an art deco aesthetic, mishmashes American and British influences, and embraces modern design flourishes — and somehow makes it all work.

“This whole building is about taking us on an amazing emotional journey,” Anne Golden, the London general manager for Morgans Hotel Group (which owns Mondrian London) tells Yahoo Travel. “It’s a mix between America and England, the best of those two worlds.”

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Background: The building that houses Mondrian London at Sea Containers has a long history as a hotel, even though it’s only been housing guests for just over a year. The building was completed in the late 1970s; the developers intended to open a hotel. But the economic crises of that time prevented the hotel’s opening and the building was converted into offices for the shipping company Sea Containers, whose name Mondrian London borrows. After Morgans Hotel Group acquired the building, it underwent a major transformation by designer Tom Dixon. It finally opened its doors as a hotel in September 2014 — about 25 years behind schedule, but better late than never.

The Location: Mondrian London is located right on the Thames River in the central London neighborhood of South Bank. Nearby landmarks include the Tate Modern and Hayward galleries, Shakespeare’s Globe theater, the Millennium Bridge, and Borough Market are within a 20-minute walk along the Thames River path.

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Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe are a short walk away. (Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

The vibe: Mondrian London’s design is inspired by the golden age of transatlantic travel in the 1920s. From the moment you enter the lobby, you get a strong sense of the nautical theme that permeates the hotel. Fortunately, the nautical theme isn’t in a garish, theme park kind of way; there are no bellhops wearing sailor hats or little anchors on the carpet. Instead, the seafaring motif is more subtly evocative.

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The hotel lobby features a copper hull that incorporates the front desk. (Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

Take the first thing that catches your eye when you walk into the hotel: the gigantic copper hull that starts on the outside of the building and cuts through the glass exterior inside the lobby to form the front desk before connecting with the nearby restaurant and bar.

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“The hull slices through the front of the building almost like it would slice through the water,” says Golden. The hull is designed to make the check-in experience mirror embarking on a 1920s-era ocean liner. The look is augmented by a giant blue sculpture that looks like a big ship’s anchor got thrown into a pop art blender.

In one of the hotel’s few unsubtle seafaring images, a big replica of the Queen Mary is placed right next to the concierge desk.

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The Queen Mary in all her miniature glory. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

The rooms: I stayed in what Mondrian London calls the “River View Deluxe” room. My room had a nice view of the Thames, with Blackfriars Bridge to the right and St. Paul’s Cathedral visible in the distance.

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The view from my room. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

The hip, seafaring aesthetic present in the lobby extends to all the hotel’s uniquely designed rooms. The rooms look nothing like a ship’s cabin but, like the rest of the hotel’s design, there are some vaguely nautical flourishes — like the wood paneling on the cabinets, the curved walls that run alongside the closet, and the tiny, decorative liquor bottles that are spread out in full view on top of the cabinet rather than hidden away in the refrigerator as with other minibars (when those old sea dogs of yore retreated to their cabins at the end of a long, hard day at sea, I don’t imagine they wasted time squatting down and opening cabinets to retrieve their daily elixir).

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My River View Deluxe (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

The drip paintings, signed by Dixon, that adorn each room and the splash of red in the closet add some playful color to the decor. The balcony rooms facing the Thames get even more of the shipboard flavor. From the balcony, when the river is at high tide the Thames walkway disappears and all you see is water. It’s kind of like looking out over your balcony on a ship.

The bars: Mondrian London has two distinct bars: one for serious cocktail snobs (that’s meant affectionately, of course), and one suitable for beautiful nights on the town.

Dandelyan (pronounced like the common lawn weed), adjacent to the lobby, is for the serious drinkers. It’s designed to resemble a British bar from the 1970s; music from that era — from Bowie to Wonder — blares from the speakers (in a nice added touch, the music is played on vinyl).

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The cocktail menus were created by author and bartender extraordinaire, Ryan Chetiyawardana, a.k.a Mr. Lyan, who has several international “Bartender of the Year” awards to his credit. He created an arrangement of cocktails designed for any particular mood and/or time of day. Looking for a light, midday potion? The vodka/brandy/cider concoction, Sea Mountain Spritz, might hit the spot. Want a festive happy-hour drink? Go for the gin-powered “A Place Between the Pines.” And for a substantial nightcap, nothing beats the unique, soothing bite of the Heartwood Old Fashioned. All the cocktails are meticulously laid out in a fun menu designed to resemble a Victorian-era field guide.

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Dandelyan: for serious drinkers (Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

For the night parties, head upstairs to the rooftop bar, which is playfully called The Rumpus Room. The hotel says it’s designed to resemble the top deck of an ocean liner, but it doesn’t look like any ship you may have seen before.

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“The design itself is sort of 1920s, 1930s with that art-deco style,” says Golden. “The floor-to-ceiling windows that surround that bar provide a great view of London, especially at night. And at a modest 12th-floor level, you get a more immersive view of the skyline, which makes for a more intimate connection with the city than the bird’s-eye perspective you get at most big-city hotel rooftop bars.

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The Rumpus Room: for a serious view (Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

The restaurant: If Mondrian London is a mix of British and American influences, Golden says the American influence is best reflected in the restaurant — called, appropriately enough, Sea Containers.

"It just feels very American,” she says. “Very light and bold and confident and great use of color.” You instantly feel comfortable in the restaurant’s familiar yet colorful space that makes it look like the nicest, most chic diner in existence. An open kitchen adds to the experience, as does the adventurous, seafood-heavy menu; the standouts are the Mediterranean sea bass (roasted in a clay oven with citrus and salsa) and the Quinoa Vegetable Slaw.

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The comfortably chic Sea Containers restaurants (Photo: Mondrian London at Sea Containers)

Amenities: The hotel boasts an adequate fitness center, a blue-decorated 56-seat screening room (which screens current art-house movies) and the gorgeous Agua Bathhouse & Spa, whose centerpiece — a gigantic copper teardrop in the spa lounge that runs from the ceiling into a still-water pool — will have you snapping pictures as you relax from your massage.

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Agua Bathhouse & Spa and its copper teardrop (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

There’s also a yoga class that starts at 7 a.m. and a running club that gets underway at 6:30 p.m.

What I loved: The gorgeous copper hull in the lobby, the delicious cocktails at Dandelyan (I’m still having dreams about the Heartwood Old Fashioned) and the friendly staff.

What I didn’t love: Marble bathrooms are beautiful and the ones in the Mondrian are no exception. But they really should have stopped at the counters and walls; marble floors in the shower are a slippery slope of a bad idea. Plus, like the old-school ocean liners it tries to emulate, Mondrian London isn’t cheap: room rates start at just under $300 a night.

Should you stay here: Definitely. Its nautical and artistic flourishes are striking enough to be interesting and subtle enough to be accessible. But this hotel’s chief selling point is its uniquely English vibe. From its position on the Thames, to the views of London’s stately old landmarks and its shiny new skyscrapers, to its uniquely British reverence for the sea, this is one hotel that never lets you forget that you’re in London. And if you love that city, that is one quality that makes this hotel more than ship-shape.

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