An award-winning writer for screen, small screen and digital, Helen Bagnall (below) is co-founder of erudite events organiser Salon London, and runs The Transmission Prize. Here, the literary leading lady takes a magical mystery tour from lofty Liverpool bolthole the Hope Street Hotel, and finds Lebanese street food, pre-party prep stations and coffee with a side of folk harp…
You know when you bump into an old friend you haven’t seen for a while? The one you find with an edgy hair cut and new threads, all full of bounce and attitude, and you think – but why did I never think of you this way before? Well, welcome to Liverpool.
It’s a beautiful city, one that slopes down to the banks of the river Mersey in gorgeous Georgian apparel. It’s manageable, walkable, affordable and adorable. The Hope Street Hotel blends modern and Georgian Liverpool in one super-chic location: a modern façade and huge pavement-level windows give you street views more New York than New Merseyside.
Corner room 419 (on the fourth floor) is the perfect place to appreciate the city in the violet hour when day slides into night: Hope Street itself is home to the mighty modern Catholic Metropolitan and Anglican cathedrals, the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Everyman Playhouse theatre, making the hotel’s cocktail lounge an apt place to contemplate culture and religion over prosecco and charcuterie.
Follow Georgian history deep down into the Baltic quarter, where its maritime past gives way to a creative hub: consider both by breakfasting at the Baltic Bakehouse on Bridgewater Street, where the sourdough is so tasty, it could tempt even those who gave up bread in the 90s.
March onwards to the Albert Dock, where, in the only city outside of London to have its own Tate gallery, ‘Art Turning Left’ is the apposite exhibition to incite your inner politico; and later this year, Mondrian and Andy Warhol drop in to stir up the abstract and Pop art scenes.
Bold Street links Liverpool’s Georgian head with its shopping soul, and offers refreshment for those moving between the two. Leaf restaurant is perma-busy with hip brunchers, Bakchich brings authentic Lebanese street food to Liverpool, and Bold Street Coffee (right) offers the city’s best java. They also have BBC folk DJ and celeb Stan Ambrose playing the folk harp from 2pm–4pm each Wednesday.
As for shopping, Liverpool One is a brand-spanking new home for all those aspirant brands, but perfectly condensed in to one small area that architecturally mixes old new seamlessly. Christmas shopping here would be a half-day breeze. Then there’s Mecca – WAG-style: Cricket. It’s a unique shopping experience – imagine everything this season, tight, see-through, short or sequinned being brought before you for your delectation. But why not, don’t some occasions demand just that? This is Liverpool: bling it on.
Harvey Nichols’ Beauty Bazaar is proper adult entertainment – the only one of its kind in the country, because Liverpool’s long-haired lovelies have the biggest spend on self-grooming. Nails, eyelashes, brows, and hair can all be done in store, and (if you don’t want to sit in the Wow Bar) champagne can be delivered anywhere you are – the staff are interested and friendly which, once you’ve got over the shock, is a heady service experience.
Make-up artists can be booked (and everyone does), manis and spray-tans are on tap, making this a serious option to begin your night. Upstairs are two further floors for your more involved procedures, where London’s best beauty therapists train it up to the city weekly to help you lose the years and add the sparkle.
Have dinner at Salt House, a Valencian-style green-and-white-tiled double-decker of a restaurant, makes a glitzy scene out of sherry, sangria and tapas. Hidden bars abound! Plan to swing by Liverpool’s ‘secret bar’, Berry and Rye (0151 345 7271), behind a blacked-out shop front at 48(ish) Berry Street; the tequileria below cocktail bar Santa Chupitos, El Bandito; and the stylish speakeasy above Salt Dog Slim’s on Seel Street, 81 Ltd. You’ll need an entry code and introduction which, of course, the Hope Street Hotel, as part of its chic and discreet modus operandi, can provide. Cocktails are made with care. Revel in the attentive service, and let Liverpool’s nightlife unfold before you from the luxury of your booth.
Liverpool makes you feel like a million dollars without troubling your bank account. The city as rejuvenation? What a seductive idea, Liverpool. Next time, I’ll leave Mr Smith at home…
For more details or to book a room at Hope Street Hotel, visit mrandmrssmith.com.
Get more of Helen Bagnall’s wise words and catch up on life, the universe and everything at the next Salon London event: ‘Big Ideas‘ is at Foyle’s Charing Cross on 6 Feb 2014. Speakers include Cambridge theoretical physicist David Tong; QI writer Stevyn Colgan; The Literary Platform’s Joanna Ellis; and author Ella Berthoud.