At some point, everyone in the UK will have seen ABBA Voyage. Word of mouth has made it a phenomenon impossible to resist even by the most squalid of kitsch haters. I went recently and, like everyone I know, found it genre-defying, as thrilling as it is expensive, and profoundly weird.
A friend from Philadelphia sat next to me and repeated every few minutes, “Look, I’m sorry, but they’re not holograms.” Meanwhile, my big sister danced like no one was watching and slowly lost her mind. At Dancing Queen she had gone through the mirror.
One of the weird things about going to ABBA Voyage is going to Stratford – which even before the 2012 Olympics and the building of that weird red Anish Kapoor thing with the Carsten Höller slide weaving through it, was touted as London’s neighborhood that determine the future.
It’s one of the best-connected places in the city in terms of transportation, and the mega-Westfield has both a casino and a Greggs branch. There really is something for everyone. And yet it still feels like a non-place in search of an identity.
Perhaps that will finally change, with Sadler’s Wells East opening there this year and a V&A East to follow. Then there’s the long-planned MSG Sphere arena, which if realized will dwarf everything else in the area, whose world surface is covered in over 1m of LEDs to spread visual nonsense all over the neighborhood . Hmm.
The Gantry hotel has recently opened across the street from the station on the fabulously named Celebration Avenue. Aside from the small pods that make up the Snoozebox across from the arena, and the Stratford (located in a skyscraper with a top-floor premier restaurant, Allegra), the Gantry is arguably the standard hotel for those in town for ABBA – and certainly for those who want to do it in style.
It is one of the Hilton’s new Curio collections and works well as a new local landmark. It is a glass box 18 stories high, lined with a kind of sculptural birdcage, with an elegant undulating grille. Once inside you’ll know how to do it: turn things 180 degrees from corporate dullness, throw in a funky-looking coffee shop in the lobby and a pop-up restaurant specializing in dumplings.
The bedrooms upstairs have a beautiful blue color. To reassure you that this is a 21st century version of Hilton, there is a coffee pod machine along with lovely martini glasses on the mini bar which are ersatz cut crystal.
There are large mirrors with rounded edges, furniture that resembles metal suitcases and a few industrial touches, such as metal gears on the wall next to monochrome photos of watches and typewriters. Everything feels fresh. Here you sleep well after the show. My only complaint about my room was that it lacked a functional desk – a necessary evil if you’re doing some partial business somewhere.
Aside from its proximity to the ABBA Arena, would you choose this hotel for a stay in London? With the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, perhaps you should: it’s 16 minutes from here to Bond Street, which still amazes me – and it should be, with the rail service 13 years in the making.
I checked in, dropped my bags and headed to the bar, Coupe, hoping to work my way through the list of British sparkling wines that the hotel makes such a big deal out of. But Coupe was kaput for the evening, so I went to the bar a few seats away where they still had Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs from Kent by the glass.
In the bar was a mix of locals, locals and an after work crowd. People do indeed live and work in all that new construction nearby, and as casual hotel bars and eateries are, the Union Social lounge is just about perfect. There are views over Stratford’s glowing hinterland and a crowd-pleasing menu: crispy miso-glazed cauliflower pops are a good vegetarian alternative to popcorn chicken, the wild mushroom falafel is moist and tasty, and a dollop of beef on a sweet parsnip purée is the cosiest comfort food.
A few floors up is a branch of STK, a restaurant that was all the rage when I first went to the original in New York in 2007, and which promises a DJ to “create an infectious, energetic atmosphere.” Not one for me, but who knows – if you really get carried away with ABBA, it just might be the ticket.
Doubles from £189, including breakfast. There are 20 accessible rooms