Original Bedlam

Text by Malin-Louise Martensson

In the building that used to be an asylum, I now drink champagne. I eat oysters in the loony bin. I sleep in rooms where English men once paid to abuse the patients of the First Bethlehem Hospital. This is the original Bedlam, now presented as the creation of English design mogul Terence Conran. This is also the Great Eastern Hotel, hidden around the corner from Liverpool Street Station in London’s East End.

I’ve stayed here for days and still haven’t had time to explore the three bars and five restaurants. But I see design and art and the dedication to keep something alive everywhere – that feeling of service which has somehow disappeared from the general service sector. You almost feel loved.

I find Arne Jacobsen chairs and Nan Goldin prints in the breakfast restaurant, and a newly built conference section on the second floor. The lobby which boasts new art exhibitions every month currently presents SOMA photographer Ruvan’s show “All Night New York.” I stare and smile at the contrast of downtown NYC and upper class Britain.

This is not an ordinary hotel. Don’t be fooled by the usual smiles and straight lines. There’s something new about the Great Eastern. And something almost scary. The original Bedlam.

Late nights are spent at the GE Members’ Bar but no one knows who is a member. Drinks and cigarettes are allowed indoors and burn marks in the posh suede sofas show for it. Something makes you suspect that they are there on purpose. Art on the walls, a box of Great Eastern matches on each table leaning carefully on cigar ashtrays – it’s perfect.

I meet Simon Warrington, the PR manager of the hotel. The day before, one of the clerks had given me a tour of the hotel while showing me the way to the ladies’ room. He tells me about ghosts – the spirits of crazy former residents that guests have been complaining about. Simon smiles, “I had a hypnotist here a few months ago and this woman went to rooms and hypnotized guests. Suddenly she came up to me and said that there were wandering spirits in the hotel. She could feel them everywhere. Something needed to be done. She had a friend who could drive them out and pass them on to the next world. I didn’t know what to do, so I agreed, hoping that this would be the end of it. Afterwards, I had a hard time explaining to our accountants why we had to pay 500 pounds, invoiced for ‘spirit cleaning.’”

As I fall asleep in the massive beds under sheets of countless thread, I look around the well-groomed room. I think the hypnotist’s friend did her job. I sleep soundly in the loony bin.


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