If you live in London, holidaying in another part of the city may not seem like the most exciting getaway, but this is 2020: the year of weird things.
At this point, any venue that isn’t the same four walls we've been staring at for months holds far-flung appeal - even if I can pretty much see it from the end of my street.
But why not vacation in the city? It's one of the world's best destinations, and besides, any break from the norm (or new normal) can feel restorative. You don’t have to cross multiple time zones to feel like you're a million miles away.
So, clutching an Oyster card instead of a boarding pass, I ventured south of the river to London Bridge where the area’s newest aparthotel, Bermonds Locke, has just opened for business.
It's a strange time to launch but site manager Ash Ely reassures me that capacity is high, all things considered. When lockdown restrictions eased, they welcomed a steady trickle of guests from the UK and further afield, attracted by the absence of crowds and the thought of having London to themselves. It helps that the hotel is just a 15-minute stroll to London Bridge station with rail routes running across the country and to Luton and Gatwick airports.
The Bermondsey aparthotel joins two other sister venues in London - Leman Locke in Aldgate and Locke at Broken Wharf by the Millennium Bridge. A third, in Dalston, will open in January 2021.
There are further Locke outposts sprinkled across Edinburgh, Manchester and Dublin, as well as mainland Europe. All share the sort of clean, light interiors that you’d swoon over on Instagram.
Where is it?
Sitting just beyond the shadow of The Shard, Bermonds Locke’s official entrance is on Tower Bridge Road. It’s much more spacious than first glance would suggest, sprawling out around the back onto Bermondsey Street, an area packed with pubs, bars and restaurants as well as cultural hits like the Fashion & Textile Museum and the White Cube.
If you’re staying over the weekend, you can find the buzz of Maltby Street Market just up the road; keeping going a little further for cheesy photo ops against the iconic backdrop of Tower Bridge.
London is blessed with many things, but few would cite blazing heat and wide open spaces in the first instance. Inspired by the Mojave and So-Cal cool of Joshua Tree, the hotel partnered with London-based interior architecture studio Holloway Li to create an urban oasis using materials that would have otherwise gone to landfill.
It feels like a portal to the American south-west with lots of pale concrete, sun-faded terracotta, terrazzo, and jute, rattan and straw furnishings. Panels of pacified zinc metal offer a rainbow gleam when they catch in the light, and ostrich egg-shaped glass terrariums sit on tables with reclaimed brick bases. Of course, there are plenty of cactus and succulents everywhere. As desert vibes go, it’s very much on the Coachella end of the scale, rather than Burning Man.
Pause for a second at check-in to admire the reception's centrepiece, a giant backlit print of half the moon, set under mirrored ceiling panels to give the illusion of a whole orb.
As for the living quarters, the 143 studio apartments are painted in desert gradients, with the top floors painted sky blue, grey and beige and the lower ones in pink clay, a nod to the searing hot earth.
This home-meets-hotel is made for the modern millennial traveller, with facilities - or rather, lack of - to match. There’s no pricey room service, but Deliveroo drivers are welcome to drop off orders to residents. No phones in the room, but you can WhatsApp reception staff if you need them. And no housekeeping, as much to respect your privacy as to comply with Covid-safe measures. It all feels very freeing, and feeds into the home-style comfort that Locke is proud to offer.
What there is plenty of is space to spread out. The reception area swaps coffee for low ABV cocktails come the evening, trading caffeine-sipping freelance patrons for the hotel’s residents. The outdoor seating area, dressed with festoon lighting, terracotta, wood and straw tub chairs and hammocks big enough for two, is an appealing option, even in crisp autumn. It's what I imagine Palm Springs might be like. Chuck in a couple of heaters and it’ll be a popular spot for winter cocktails too, I'm sure.
Much to the delight of its fans, the restaurant formerly known as The Dairy has moved from Clapham to Bermonds Locke to serve as the resident eaterie. Now known as Bermondsey Larder, it’s only open Wednesdays to Sundays.
You needn’t worry about going hungry in-between though; there’s a smorgasbord of gastronomical delights on Bermonds Locke’s doorstep, from the swish Cafe Murano to crowd-pleasing pies at Franco Manca. Check out Vinegar Yard by London Bridge station for vintage shopping and food stalls, or head straight for London’s food mecca Borough Market to get your fill.
Food & Drink
There are two options; Shaman, the coffee shop for hot drinks, breakfast and light lunch bites, and the restaurant, Bermondsey Larder.
Set beside the elevators to the upper floors, it’s a light and airy space seamlessly tying together with the rest of the interiors. The menu is produce-led and seasonal, and there are more starters on offer than mains - great for grazers who don’t mind sharing.
My friend and I kicked things off with a lamb shoulder croquette to share, and sourdough toast piled with richly truffled Baron Bigod cheese, sweet fig jam and walnut, along with a courgette salad with salsa verde for a bit of greenery.
For mains, it was a choice between monkfish, pulled aubergine and beef rump. We plumped for the beef - delicious - with a side of seasoned roasted pink potatoes for good measure. Each course was paired with a cocktail, suggested and served by attentive staff.
Though nearing bursting point by the meal's end, we couldn't resist the lure of the chocolate salted caramel pudding. A wise move, as it turns out; my friend scraped the final mouthfuls off the plate while wailing “I don’t want it to end!”. Is there any higher praise?
Head straight for the top floor to soak up glorious views of London’s rooftops - you can see from the London Eye right across to the Shard. There’s not a whole world of difference between the room categories; typically with a bed, sofa and kitchenette in each room (including a washing machine!), each can accommodate two guests and offer the same tasteful furnishings in open plan spaces. Choose a Locke Studio for more space.
A short, but oh-so sweet, break.
Rooms from £99 a night, www.lockeliving.com