Eight in the Middle

By Jo Phillips

Covent Garden in the centre of London has an extremely richly woven history that for those that may be not in the know; runs the gauntlet for poverty and wealth,  prostitution and a gambling nightlife,  flower girls to hawkers and entertainment and squalor.  Up to its current history of glamour and elegance, and with this rich heritage hotel Middle Eight has just opened in Great Queen-street a sumptuous elegant yet laid back space with surprises that hint at the history of the area spun into its very DNA. Find out more about right in the middle of the action here in Eight in the Middle.

From poverty to riches via decadence and working people, the area today defined as Covent Garden has a rich and long history with much thinking suggesting occupation of the area goes as far back as Roman times.

In the relatively early days of this section of London, it was inhabited by rich and titled people who build some grand houses but once a market came this changed.  Interestingly the name of Covent Garden comes from a part of its origins

Initially called Convent Garden because it was where the land-owning Benedictine monks of the Abbey of St Peter, Westminster grew their vegetables, which were later referred to as “the garden of the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Convent then became Covent.

The central square in Covent Garden usually referred to as “Covent Garden Piazza” was the first modern square in London which was much copied.   From about 1635 onwards there were many private residents of note, including the nobility, living in the Great Piazza.

It was around then that a small casual market started on the south side before a market hall was built.

But even though the houses initially attracted the wealthy, they started to move out when a market developed on the south side of the square around in the mid 17th century and so moved in the coffee houses, taverns, and prostitutes. It became a bit ‘party central’. The wealthy still visited of course but the area housed the less wealthy.

The Royal Opera House was constructed in 1732 to a design by Edward Shepherd. During the first hundred years or so of its history, the theatre was primarily a playhouse, and this created the reason for the wealthy to visit again

Yet by the 18th century, Covent Garden had become a well-known red-light district, attracting famous prostitutes of their day. Descriptions of the prostitutes and where to find them were provided by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, which at the time was an “essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure”.

On top of established entertainment theatres and bars, street performers were doing shows which go back as far as Samuel Pepys mentioning Punch and Judy shows performed at the sides of streets. Even up to the last century it was infamous for partying with one of the first-ever locations of the burgeoning punks scene being located in The Roxy Club 41–43 Neal Street in 1977.

By 1830 a market hall was built to provide a more permanent trading centre and the market was in full bloom so busy that the streets became extremely crowded with the profusion of horses and carts.

Eventually, due to how busy it was in the modern era with cars and vans doing deliveries, traffic congestion was causing problems, so the market moved to Nine Elms by the Thames River and because of much of its heritage status it then became a wonderful destination area with a craft market, shops, food establishments and entertainment.

So, as you can see, the area is deep in a rich heritage, which can be seen echoed in the new hotel Middle Eight on Great Queen Street, the heart of Covent Garden, and as you are keenly aware, thids main throughfare is steeped in history, shopping, entertainment, and attractions.

Walk in the door and enter a calming oasis of light wood to the left a bar that opens all the way through to a restaurant to the right an elegant a parred-back, light wood-filled reception. The understated elegance alludes from all around.

The bar with double-height floor to ceiling windows looks out to the busy streets or inwards towards the restaurant, open yet is still calming and coconing. The generous central bar serves cocktails, draft Italian beers or their signature take on a classic Negroni cocktail.

The Italian theme continues through to the restaurant, an all-day Italian inspired menu, called the Sycamore Vino Cucina. A large, light-flooded space highlighting Italian ingredients from handmade pizzas, authentic Cicchetti to indulgent dolce (desserts) with a fine wine menu as well as cocktails available.

There is also a mezzanine bar and food area overlooking the Sycamore Vino Cucina, The Balcony, a comfortable and cosy environment in which to unwind, hold a meeting or play board games. Along with both lounge style and booth seating, the space offers workspace areas and a curated library with books focusing on art, London, sustainability and ecology. Eat here from a menu of classic comfort food from across the globe or a selection of tempting small plates, or order an artisan coffee with something sweet on the side, and should you desire there is afternoon tea also on offer with maybe a glass of bubbles too?

And the rooms? with 168 of them there are five styles to choose from; Cosy Pad, via Classic Chic, then there is Urban Deluxe, Superior Street and Executive Style. All the rooms feature bespoke furniture that carries through the Middle Eight’s signature soft calming elegant styling. Included (room dependent) marble bathrooms with rainfall showers giving a soothing spa feel. Find from Cosy Pad rooms upwards standard luxury amenities, such as Egyptian cotton linens, Nespresso coffee machines, flat-screen TV with Chromecast, Wifi and super-soft beds. The grandest suits also offer enhanced bespoke toiletries, a separate sitting and dining area, and a pristine white marble bathroom boasting a freestanding soaking tub with (brilliant idea) separate toilet from the main bathroom.

Think sleek elegant comfort in a quiet yet lush environment. In fact, the hotel as a whole has a laid back elegance that is utterly chic; that almost quite like the style of ‘old English money’, one that doesn’t have to shout its head off cos it knows just how elegant it is. And it’s this that sits so well in this urban oasis. This area so deep in history sits this hotel quietly confident parked squarely and proudly as a take on the best a modern hotel has to offer; utterluy at ease in its space.

Echoing the deep history via food and luxury yet it has one more special little secret that so plays on the heritage of the area and in fact links as to why the hotel is called Middle Eight. The building itself dates back to 1912. Originally a Methodist church called Kingsway Hall, its legendary acoustics saw it become one of the world’s leading studios for the recording of classical and film music. And so from this, the name comes. The term “middle eight,” is a type of musical interlude or bridge that differs in character from a song’s melody and is used to inject variety through a change of key or tempo.

And so from middle eight hotel comes the QT room. In the hotel’s basement find a space not so different from a decadent 1920’s speakeasy where cocktails meld with up-tempo jazz, maybe a comedy night too can be indulged from its central stage. Think dark, moody, with rich gemstone highlight colours and stained wood floors that seem to hold the secrets of nights gone by.

The basement bar offers guests not only a welcoming place to sip cocktails and nibble on light bites, but it’s also a space for live performances and nightly entertainment

This elegant softly lit space becomes almost a hidden hideaway where only those in the know go for entertainment; on the QT. The venue is now hosting a thrice-weekly residency, called QT Presents The Green Room. A night of sultry, sexy, sax-infused residency starring music legend Leo Green. Along with the legend that is Leo the nights hosts an array of ultra-talented musicians and singers buzzing with their own unique jazzy, bluesy, funky and soulful twist on some of the best-loved songs of the last 30 or so years.

Also blowing up a storm on trumpet is Leo’s musical sparring partner, Matt Holland, both mainstays of Van Morrison’s legendary band. All woven together by Leo’s inimitable hosting and his trusty sax. Sing along, dance-along, or just sit, sip and eat-along. It is high octane fun, with the band’s tight performance and perfect pitch quite something to behold. Live music in an intimate space is a wonderful experience and here at the QT, it creates an ambience where band and audience come together as one.

Adding more to this immense atmosphere find a carefully curated cocktail list with signatures such as Crimson Port Berry with Blood Orange Foam and an array of Italian inspired sharing dishes including Padron peppers & deep-fried gnocchi.

The room also offers opportunities for private hire for events and screenings and can accommodate up to 90 guests seated and 100 for a standing reception.

So from up-tempo swinging jazz to quiet elegance via spa level bathroom and, a space literally built on hundreds of years of history. An oasis in the centre of busy London town the Middle Eight hotel brings alive the very area it stands in from its most regal to its most ‘street’.

Find more Here about Midle Eight. Great for travellers but also for stay cations and moments like a valentines weekend Hotel amenities include; Event space, Family-friendly, Gym, Accessible, Non-smoking, Pet-friendly, Wifi. QT Green Room information is Here and it opens Thursday, Friday and Saturday with two shows each night, from 8 pm to 9.15 pm and from 10 pm to 11.15 pm (with a DJ until 2 am). If you enjoyed reading Eight in the Middle then why not read Art and the Body Here.

Cent magazine London, Be Inspired;Get Involved