THE Vincent Hotel on Lord Street in Southport is pretty as a picture - once you get it all in the frame. As I was photographing it the other day a man in a black coat came out of the revolving front door and told me to stop. Of course I carried on and he got quite determined, “Stop photographing the car”.
He was referring to a rather vulgar customised black Range Rover that I was hoping someone would move because it was messing up my shot. Minutes later, as I sat down to lunch at the Vincent Sushi Bar, I realised that the coated man with the over-inflated sense of his own authority was, in fact, valet parking the hulking vehicle for a pale, rather plain man and his two dining companions. The woman was an augmented blonde, size six, the second man dark and difficult to age, like a variety of bottled male preserve. The pale one, on second glance, turned out to be Steven Gerrard, footballing Phil Collins fan recently released on police bail after being red carded in a nearby bar. Along with the 3,650ft pier and the Lord Street shopping parade, Gerrard and co are among Southport’s top sights.
The sea and Southport have a tenuous relationship. It is hardly worth pursuing. The newish tram that takes you down the seemingly endless pier is unheated. The newish end of the pier pavilion allows you some cover for the 15-minute turnaround before the tram heads back inland. The pavilion is a sad, unheated retail shed that makes scant acknowledgement of the illusive sea but affords a good hide from which to watch wading birds.
Southport is a redeemed resort. It is cheerful and spirited, even when shrouded in the mists of a new recession. Local man Paul Adams opened The Warehouse Brasserie here in 1996. It’s won awards and stayed busy ever since, which is a formidable record for an aspirational kitchen that knows how to chargrill scallops just so, and can make crème brulee genuinely interesting again. So Paul V Adams decided to stake his middle name on a new hotel.
The Vincent Hotel behind the bandstand slap in the middle of Lord Street is a grande projet on a reckless scale. Sixty rooms on five floors, banqueting and conference suites on floor one, deli restaurant, bars and spa, fashionably dark and inviting, opened for business in June 2008.
You would think you are in a bustling metropolis. For all its nouveau flounce and footballer appeal, it actually pulls up well short of the bad taste barrier. There’s a bit of a celebrity photographer thing going on in the bar and thereabouts. Tony McGee, a London-based professional photographer of merit, is a friend of the hotel’s owner. His portraits crowd out the back wall of the comfortable bar. There is a youthful Dan Day Lewis, the second Mrs McCartney minus her prosthetic leg, and an Indian elephant with an amusingly large member. All in the best possible taste. The bar only serves lager in halves. But it is good Japanese lager.
The rooms are terrific. Dark timber. Nespresso machine. Very agreeable shelved bath and rose shower. Deep sprung bed the size of a Channel island. A comfortable match for anything overseen by Olga Polizzi (hotel designing sister of Rocco Forte).
The bedroom windows onto Lord Street are netted and framed on the inside with a movable split canvas screen mounted on runners floor and ceiling. These have been photo-printed, in our room a monochrome photo-enlargement of a ballet rehearsal. I’ve never seen this arrangement in a hotel room before and expect to see it everywhere soon. You could argue the rooms are relatively expensive; our corner studio is about £180 a night. We got an amazing deal on laterooms.com. In all I’d say Vincent gives good value for money. There’s a spa too.
Adams is as glamorous as his most glamorous guests. Stylish, in an expensive denim sort of way, he clearly gets as much from his training regime as any international footballer. He’s all over the place, holding open doors, deftly lifting discarded dinner plates, openly assuring all is well. Either he has been secretly cloned or his energy is such that he can be everywhere at once. Those of his staff I spoke to have been at Vincent since Day One and love it. They radiate the glow of its obvious success. And so will Southport, despite the economic downturn. Vincent is 35 minutes up the road. With this quality, a one-night stay is as good as a long-weekend.
The Vincent Hotel is at 98 Lord Street, Southport, PR8 1JR. +44(0) 1704 883800, www.thevincenthotel.com
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