Following our look at the Adelphi’s food and drink we turn our attentions to the building itself, and its rooms, in the second part of our take on Liverpool’s historic hotel.

So much for the food. We published an article a couple of weeks that looked at the Adelphi’s food and drink operation. And we did not find it good, though perhaps we found it understandable. Perhaps the only model that works in such an enormous building is one based on volume.

But it seems a shame to plough this furrow of diminishing returns; as if with every passing coach tour a little more of the Adelphi sheen is gone. With every cheap sausage, every pint of Fosters and every sodding egg salad.

So, so much for the food. But what fascinates me most about the Adelphi is the place itself; its bricks and mortar and its history and day-to-day rhythms.

So, we spent the best part of a week there – a reflection of the five-day tours that travel companies from all over the UK offer at very cheap prices: £200 (cheaper at other times of the year) or so for four night’s accommodation, two meals a day and a free bar all night after seven during Summer.

Entry is through an old-fashioned revolving door, but there’s a bit of a preview of what’s ahead outside in the shape of dozens of pensioners enjoying a fag. It’s not a very clever way to present your hotel – a concierge and a ‘no smoking’ rule at the front of the building would improve first impressions enormously.

The lobby is large and slightly overpowering – all marble and leather and wood and brass. There are restaurants and bars in every direction and people milling around, arriving or departing. A board tells arriving guests where they should be going and provides an insight into which corporate functions are going in in the various rooms.

Ahead and up is the main lounge, one of the aspects of the the Adelphi that reminds you that this place is a serious heavy hitter, in some respects. It’s the kind of opulence seen in very few other Liverpool buildings – all chandeliers, French doors and marble. It’s vaguely nautical and extremely impressive. There are a few sofas dotted around the lounge and they look a little lost among the grandiosity; it feels a little bit too empty but it’s a great introduction to the hotel.

On either side are more grand halls and they’re really worth a look. These rooms really are the best of the Adelphi and it’s wonderful they exist – largely – in their original forms.

The Hypostyle Hall is still a sight to behold, a number of Ionic columns reaching high to an ornate ceiling. Look up high and various plaster reliefs can be made out – details that probably go unnoticed by most guests.

And beyond there’s another suite, another celebration of neo-classical opulence. When we walk through it’s dimly lit but it’s easy to make out tables set for tomorrow’s breakfast and tables groaning with miniature packets of Kellogg’s cereal.

Amongst the banqueting halls is, reputedly, a whole wall that rises noiselessly into the ceiling to extend the floorspace. It’s an incredible notion; another reminder than this was once designed to be the most luxurious hotel in Europe.

In most directions are large function rooms, antechambers, kitchens, some of which have survived the last 100 years better than others. The least impressive have what look like mobile bars lodged in them – it immediately brings to mind wedding parties and mobile discos. A couple of the offending bars have tills gaping open as if in astonishment. Towels mask Carling and Guinness pumps; they make the place look and feel cheap.

Elsewhere stacks of chairs and tables look abandoned, there’s something quite ghostly about the place. Doors marked Private are tantalisingly ajar. I strongly suspect you could live in the Adelphi for weeks without anyone noticing.

Should you wish to, you could simply wander around the Adelphi for hours before being challenged. SevenStreets enjoyed poking around the labyrinthine building for some time without ever venturing through doors we clearly shouldn’t – it’s as if the hotel rather shuts down at night, leaving little pockets of lost pensioners, like penguins on a slow walk to the ocean, dotted round here and there in search of the land of the free booze and bingo.

We eventually located the basement suites where one must head in search of the residents’ free bar after a five-minute trek from reception. This is where all the various coach parties are herded for their free lager and gin and cruise-style evening entertainment. We never stayed in this vast halls because it’s so depressing, but rued that decision when we found a spider in our gin and tonic.

It’s hard to discern what its original purpose was, but now it’s as big as a sports hall with about half as much character. There used to be tennis courts down here – was this vast, peach-coloured room that’s named after an area in Liverpool once a place where rich guests whacked a tennis ball around before setting of for New York and breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Anyway, to bed. What dubious delights await us upstairs? Well, that rather depends on what floor you’re on. If one of the rickety, knackered lifts takes you to the top floor, well, good luck. These rooms were invaded by pigeons and the elements just 30 years ago, when owners British Transport Hotels – part of the soon-to-be-privatised British Rail. They’re now renovated but are still the least impressive of all the hotel rooms in the Adelphi.

It is important to point out that Britannia brought the Adelphi back from the dead a couple of decades ago when the top two floors were uninhabitable and derelict, the roof on the verge of caving in. The Adelphi could have been another the La Scala or Forum; a shagged-out shell greeting visitors to Liverpool like an admission of defeat; like much of the rest of Lime Street.

For what it’s worth the rooms do still have a certain grandiosity, particularly the bathrooms that often feature what look like period details – lovely free-standing basins – though rooms on lower levels seem to differ quite wildly in terms of size and quality.

Standard rooms feel cramped and rather down-at-heel, though the deluxe and premier rooms look much better, there’s even a suggestion of classic British elegance to them – we’ve seen them but not stayed in them. Charles Dickens has though. And Oswald Mosley. And Hitler, reputedly. We also know for certain that Sylvester McCoy has, though we’re not sure whether he was on a two-meals-deal.

There are some great views across the city from some rooms in the Adelphi; from others there’s a view of extractor fans and the knackered roof of the garage (cramped, expensive – we parked over the road) at the back. You book a room; you takes your chances.

Should you – like me – wish to discover the odd delights of the building, many of which are presumably off limits to even curious, unobstructed strays like me, there are guided tours every other week if you can manage to determine when they’re on and from where they depart. We weren’t. We weren’t able to get anything out of Britannia in fact – our emails went unheeded; our questions to staff met with a puzzled stare. The communication is laughable and God help you if you have to complain after your stay.

A booklet in the hotel details the building’s former glories and suggests that there are still glimpses of all that Georgian magnificence. But it feels like a mistake in light of how the majority of the hotel now looks.

“This hotel used to be a wondrous place,” says the booklet with its turtle soup and its tennis courts and famous guests. Any modern guest, upon seeing this, cannot fail to compare the Adelphi now to its former glory.

It’s possible to find some footage of Harold Wilson interviewed as he exits the Adelphi as he sets off for Lime Street and then to Euston as he expects to be declared Prime Minister. There’s what’s reputed to be a very beautiful suite named after him, but we’ve never come across it.

For all sorts of reasons it’s hard to image Ed Milliband addressing cheering crowds on Ranelagh Place, but the absurdity of that scenario illustrates how the Adelphi just isn’t in the same league any more.

I tend to favour buildings with a touch of romance about them. Perfection is boring, routine is dull, tidy is tedious. Give me an old building with character any day. That faded glamour; those magical walls; the history that oozes from the metal and stone of the building. But staying at the Adelphi over the course of the week could test my patience for melancholia.

There are many more new hotels headed to Liverpool, to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands bussed and flown in to see our football, our music and our museums. Places that will be cheaper, smarter, more acceptable to modern hotel-goers than the Adelphi.

Places that even the Adelphi, with its whaffer-thin margins, will struggle to compete with. That’s a sad thought, but Britannia need only look across the road to Lewis’s for a salutary lesson on what happens when big old Liverpool beasts are beaten at their own game.

Images courtesy of Joseph Tame, Geoff Davis, woodlet and katielips via Flickr respectively

  • http://www.roymccarthy.com Roy McCarthy

    A really interesting piece, thanks. I suppose the fabric of the building is the only real remnant of a time when things were made/done with a sense of pride and purpose. Every other aspect has had human influence and has therefore been subject to years of declining standards & expectations all round. The britannia in Manchester has a similar sense of ‘why can’t anyone do this properly any more?’

  • Kate

    A fairly accurate portrait I think, although a bit unkind about the food. The smokers at the front are not all people staying in the hotel – there’s a contingent of ne’er-do-wells that seem to hang about all the time. You didn’t mention the disgusting state of the bar toilets.

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