Last week, The Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland launched its 2019 writers residency. Designed to give aspiring writers a chance to work on their craft in peace, the hotel is offering a complimentary seven-night all-inclusive stay to the winner of the top spot, with four- and three-night stays for second and third place respectively.
Steve Braunias, author of and editor of Newsroom’s books section ReadingRoom, spent three nights in 2014 at The Surrey writing 30,000 words of his book The Scene of the Crime. “I needed somewhere I could just sit and write, day and night, no one around, no interruptions, in an intense regime of writing and thinking and dreaming,” he wrote for Newsroom.
General manager Denise King told Hotel Magazine that the hotel has a built-in allowance for the writer’s residency. “It certainly wasn’t our intent to become a literary hotel, but we love being part of the writer’s residency, and if that becomes our legacy I would be delighted.” As a small, independent hotel, The Surrey is perhaps perfectly poised to offers writers the chance to get away from it all. Intentionally or not, it follows in a long line of hotels that have provided inspiration for some of history’s great literary figures.
Hotel Continental, Barcelona
Whilst visiting Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pen-name George Orwell – stayed at the Hotel Continental. He returned to the hotel several times throughout his life, even mentioning it in his account of his experiences in Barcelona, Home to Catalonia.
Today, many Orwell admirers still flock to the Hotel Continental for its historical ties to the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. In fact, the hotel is still run by the same family, the Malagarrigas. The contemporary management team had to learn about the hotel’s history after so many guests inquired about Orwell’s time there.
Gritti Palace, Venice
After an African safari in which he endured two successive plane crashes, Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary arrived in Venice to recoup. Whilst staying at the aptly named Gritti Palace, Hemingway finalised many passages of his novel Across the River at Into the Trees. Today, the Gritti Palace is owned by Marriott, and its Hemingway Presidential Suite is named after the writer.
Hemingway caught the attention of the manager of the Gritti Palace, who was stunned by the writer’s alcohol consumption. “Three bottles of Valpolicella [red wine] first thing in the day were nothing to him,” he observed. Famously unhinged, Hemingway once staged a midnight baseball game in the hotel’s lobby. Rather than being told off, the hotel gave him a 10 percent discount, honoured that someone had played the great American sport on their premises.
Though he did not write any of his great works there, Oscar Wilde’s last days were spent at L’Hôtel in 1900. After a long bout with cerebral meningitis, Wilde passed away in room 16, but not before uttering his famous last words, “Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.”
The hotel underwent an extensive refurbishment in 1967 and soon came to be the place to be seen in Paris, with everyone from Salvador Dali, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor passing through its doors.
These days, L’Hôtel is one of the smallest five-star hotels in Paris, with only 20 rooms. The room in which Wilde spent his last days is now known as the Oscar Wilde Suite. At more than €300/NZ$520 a night, it’s definitely in the luxury category, but still gets plenty of tourist attention for its literary significance.
The Plaza, New York
F. Scott Fitzgerald
At the height of the 1920s flapper culture, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, often visited the Plaza on Fifth Avenue in New York. They lived around the corner on 38 West 59th Street, and since neither liked to cook, they often visited the Plaza’s Grill Room – then a casual basement restaurant and speakeasy. The restaurant featured in his novel The Beautiful and the Damned, and The Plaza was the setting for the penultimate scene of his iconic novel The Great Gatsby.
Now owned by Accor, The Plaza offers a lavish Fitzgerald Suite in tribute to its famous patron. One of a ‘dying breed’ of luxury Manhattan hotels, its location in the heart of Midtown, at the crossroads of Central Park and Fifth Avenue, ensure it retains its identity as one of the Big Apple’s places to be.
Brown’s Hotel, London
Founded in 1837 and nestled away in Mayfair, Central London, is one of the British capital’s oldest hotels. Rudyard Kipling wrote much of his iconic collection of short stories, The Jungle Book, whilst staying at the hotel, which has hosted a huge number of historical heavyweights, including Theodore Roosevelt, Napoleon III, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King.
Now owned by Rocco Forte Hotel, the Brown’s Hotel’s Kipling Suite pays tribute to the colonial era Kipling’s work embodies. Feeling more like a grand apartment than a hotel room, the suite was designed by Rocco Forte Hotel’s director of design, Olga Polizzi. It features exotic patterned wallpaper and fabrics by Gloucestershire-based Lewis & Wood, and vintage pieces such as 1940s alabaster pendant lights. At NZ$9,500 a night, it’s definitely on the pricier end of the scale.