JC Stays - The Principal Hotel, Manchester

Manchester's new hotel mixes tradition with a very contemporary buzz


What does a £25 million refit get you? At The Principal Manchester, an imposingly vast neoclassical lobby topped by a stained glass dome, for starters. At ground level, a giant equine sculpture stands on the erstwhile turning circle for horse and carriages.

The artwork is one of many links to the history of the listed building, designed in 1891 as the headquarters for the Refuge Assurance Company by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect behind London’s Natural History Museum.

Other originals include the marble and bronze directors’ staircase. And if waiting for an ordered taxi on one of the lobby benches, reading matter includes volumes of All England Law Reports from 1953.

If you’re bound for Manchester Piccadilly station, it’s walkable in 15 minutes, as are some fine cultural institutions, notably the Whitworth Art Gallery, although to check out the excellent local Jewish museum, housed in a Moorish former Sephardi synagogue, you’ll probably need to take that cab.

Listed features extend to many of the 270 guest rooms at the hotel, with the design giving a significant nod to the building’s original use. With its sturdy wood panels and fittings, mine — a superior double — has a definite legal vibe. Armchairs are well upholstered, the phone is retro style, lighting options are varied and the mirror outside the compact but well-appointed bathroom is massive.

The latest weather message on the television opposite the bed conforms to Manchester climatic stereotype... overcast. By nightfall, it has been amended to “hold onto your hat, it’s windy out there”.

But despite the elegance of the decor, I take the greatest childlike pleasure in extras such as the complimentary tuck box, filled with small choccy treats, crisps and chewy lollies, resisting the urge to consume the majority alongside my first of the assorted hot drinks. Kudos also to the hotel for supplying fresh milk, rather than the standard UHT sachets. There is even a teapot.

And when the wifi (eventually) kicks in, I browse the hotel’s digital news service, covering the spectrum of dailies and periodicals from The Times to the Beano.

For meals, there’s the Refuge by Volta — a partnership between The Principal and DJs-turned-restaurateurs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford — which is located at the front of the cavernous building. As the DJs’ involvement implies, the bar and restaurant has a youthful energy and clientele, serving cocktails with an undeniable kick and tapas-sized plates, sea bass and tuna among them, perfect for sharing.

My waiter’s recommendation to end with pear and hazelnut tarte tatin with espresso custard is sound. At breakfast, the generous mound of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs also goes down a treat. Happily sated, I resist the urge to polish off the remains of my in-room tuck box before departure.

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