It used to happen a lot in the early 1990s, when I was in my lustful thirties. Back then, I’d meet up during a midweek lunchtime with a man I’d had my eye on. I’d flirt and smoke and get sloshed, take the afternoon off (what?) and end up at his place. It was often a rat-infested tip, but I sort of didn’t care.
This behaviour vanished in my forties, when my career involved back-breaking slog that left me too knackered for anything else, and any weary frisson came from a job well done.
But now… hmm. I’m not saying the work situation is any better, but I have decided I’d like to re-introduce those heady, impetuous afternoons while I can still take my clothes off and think it might be a sight worth seeing.
Still, things are different now. I’m in a relationship, we live together, and shagging at home (if and when) means sharing the bed with the cats. That’s not exciting.
I’d like to re-introduce those heady, impetuous afternoons while I can still take my clothes off and think it might be a sight worth seeing
Other friends have kids; noisy teens slamming back in at 4pm with homework. Still other pals are divorcing, embarking on tentative affairs, and they long for somewhere gorgeous (on neutral territory) to go for a little interlude.
The answer on all counts is a hotel room, a delightful, decadent and discreet place that you can book for a few hours; maybe a night, maybe not. Where there’s no silly fuss to blunt your anticipation, simply the illicit thrill of taking the key, then snogging in the lift on the way up. After all, that’s what we’re here for.
Finding the right venue, one with savoir-faire, is crucial. (Scroll down if you can’t wait for my rooms-by-the-hour discovery.) I’m not the giggly 30-something who once, out of it and with a very cool dude, tried to book an afternoon in the penthouse suite at the Swiss Cottage Holiday Inn.
“I have £20,” I said casually, waving the money in their faces. I also had my credit card, but they were icy about rooms for what we clearly had in mind.
I don’t expect to be in that state again (I can’t afford the brain cells) but even drunk, I couldn’t come back from something like that now.
As for where to go now, I’m assuming you’re not on holiday but swept up in the middle of a busy day, fitting your tryst into an otherwise hectic week. So we’re talking city hotels.
There are, of course, other reasons why you might need a room for just a few hours. An impromptu meeting, to do some work before a presentation, or to take a nap and a shower before a big event or a flight. It needn’t be romance at all (though we hope it is).
So how easy is it? Here are the surprising results of a quick phone-around.
- The Hempel, 31-35 Craven Hill Gardens, London
The Hempel, designed by Anouska Hempel, is delicious, sexy and candlelit
Price: Reception is surprised I want a room for just a few hours. “For what is the day use, exactly? What is it you’ll be doing?”
“Meeting my partner for the afternoon. Can you offer a day rate, or would it be the full overnight price?”
“How many hours exactly will you be staying?”
“Rather difficult to say. Perhaps 2pm to 6pm?”
Brusquely, I’m put on hold. After a long time, a price is quoted. Is that less than overnight?
“No, it’s the standard overnight charge.” (Around £189.) I wonder why they wanted to know the hours?
Vibe: Is it OK if we leave discreetly, perhaps without checking out?
The atmosphere drops another few degrees to freezing. “If you prefer. Just leave the key in the room. We charge a standard £100 for mini-bar and room service, if you’ve used it. As long as you don’t go over £100, we’ll simply charge it to your card.”
Fair enough, but I put the phone down feeling like a naughty schoolgirl. Not in a good way.
- Hazlitt’s, 6 Frith Street, London
A central Soho, sophisticated, Georgian-style hotel
Price: “What is this for? Are you filming?”
“No, it’s just to meet someone for the afternoon.”
“Then you need a meeting room.” (Are you trying to be funny, buster?)
“No, we’d need a bedroom.”
“Ah. No, it cannot be… Let me check.”
I hang on, for a long time. I feel dirty. “Hello? Yes, you cannot have a bedroom with a bed for a meeting.”
“Look, sorry, I can’t have made myself clear, it’s simply to use a bedroom for four hours.”
“I don’t really understand..?”
Mother of God! I finally establish that I would have to pay the full charge, around £235 plus VAT.
Vibe: Yes, one can depart discreetly, leaving the key in the room. “But don’t take the key with you.”
Got that. “And you will still have to leave by the front door.”
What, as opposed to shimmying down the drainpipe or sneaking out the back like the alley cat I obviously am?
- The Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, London
Close to Soho, where seduction is king. It’s part of the Morgans Hotel Group, which includes the swish Delano in Miami and the Royalton in New York
Price: It all depends. “If we’re fully booked, you’d pay the full price, since we can’t sell that room again even if you leave at 6pm. But if we’re not busy, we might be able to give you the room for half the day rate.” The day rate starts at £299.
Vibe: “I’d like to be discreet. Is it OK for my friend and I to just leave the key in the room, and not check out?”
Hugely affronted tone: “I’m sorry? I don’t know what you mean.”
“If I’m meeting someone and using the bedroom for the afternoon, can we simply leave the key and go?”
“No, you can’t. You definitely must check out, even if you only checked in hours ago.”
Which could potentially be excruciating. Sigh. When is someone going to say, “We’d be delighted to see you, and have some champagne while you’re at it”? Where’s the fun gone?
- The Lowry, 50 Dearmans Place, Chapel Wharf, Manchester
The Lowry is a glorious hotel, with dramatically big soft beds and a hyper-modern curved, glass front façade
Price: A room for a few hours? Reception seems unfazed and ask my name (I say “Brown”), go off to check, but no, Mrs Brown (Mrs Brown? When did I get married?) you’d always pay the full whack (from £129 a night).
Vibe: If I was meeting someone in one of your rooms for a few hours, could we leave discreetly?
Now that they’ve decided I’m Mrs Brown, things are rather different. There’s a moment while my question sinks in, then the response, which is dripping with sadness and sympathy: “No, Mrs Brown. You’d have to check out officially, I’m afraid.” I feel like sobbing.
- Tigerlily, 125 George Street, Edinburgh
Tigerlily is right in the middle of the city centre and billed as an ultra-seductive boutique hotel: “Stylish. Contemporary. Indulgent”
Price: Gordon on reception sounds stilted. “A room for an afternoon? That’s not something that we tend to do.”
But if we just stayed for a few hours, would we pay the full price?
“You’d pay the full price, yes, which is from £225. But as I say, it’s not something that we tend to do.” He is crystal clear.
Vibe: I really have to gird my loins to carry on with this. If, for discretion, we wanted to leave without checking out? “We’d prefer to know, even if you just gave us a call to say you were on your way out. And of course, we’d pre-authorise your card so that we can bill you.”
But wait! A delicious discovery
Discouraged? Ah, don’t be. Because riding to the rescue in the nick of time, I have located the crustily-named but quite wonderful Dayuse Hotels.
It’s an American-owned company that recruits boutique hotels who are happy for guests to reserve rooms for three to seven hours. There are hotels in the US, Paris, Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden, and a London office opened this year.
The scheme helps to fill hotels that are suffering empty daytime capacity during recession, and provides a useful amenity for guests, for whatever they’d like to do. In Paris, 95 per cent of users are conducting romances, with the majority of bookings made by women. Best of all, the prices reflect the shorter time you’re there.
The hotels are fabulous, not sleazy. In London, they include the super-stylish Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, where a room from 11am-5pm is £109 instead of the usual £174; the modernist St John Hotel just off Leicester Square (£120 instead of £340); and the richly traditional Beaufort at 33 Beaufort Gardens, round the corner from Harrods (£120 instead of £250).
You don’t even have to be premeditated about it: there’s an app, you can book direct on the website, or you can phone them. I did the latter, and the charming Thibaud informed me of some handsome rooms available this very afternoon, in central London.
And he made it sound like the hippest, most soignée thing ever.