I’ve not stayed at The Queens for over 35 years so with lockdown restrictions easing we decided to spend a couple of midweek nights in the regency town again, reliving a few early career and romantic memories. As a young IT professional based in London’s West End I had responsibilities for HR in Gulf Oil Great Britain’s headquarters at Imperial Square in Cheltenham and I’d often drive there to spend time discussing system changes these folks needed. Gulf would put me up at the nearby Queens Hotel and I spent many happy evenings spending the company’s money in the Queens’ bar with many Gulf colleagues over my many visits there. Paula and I also began a new phase of our lives following a life-changing company dinner dance one Christmas, held just across the road. Whilst we’ve visited the town many times since we’d not stayed at the hotel so I was looking forward to our visit. Still a dominating Victorian column-fronted building overlooking the tree-lined formal gardens of Imperial Square in the centre of the pretty town, GOGB has long gone and we find their old ‘Quadrangle’ offices, situated the other side of the Square from the hotel, under refurbishment and enveloped in cladding and scaffolding.
Part of Trust House Forte in my day the imposing four star hotel is as I remember from the outside, flags hanging from first floor poles, advising it’s now part of M Gallery Hotel Collection, whoever they are. Entering the lobby, the light and welcoming reception and bar area I remember so well is now decorated in modern dingy brown and grey colours and is dimly-lit. Paula presents herself at the Perspex-fronted reception desk behind which is a masked and uniformed reception clerk who tells her our room, on the third floor at the back of the hotel because she’d asked for a quiet room, is not yet ready. “I didn’t ask for a quiet room”, Paula replied to which the clerk retorted that she must have ticked a box on the booking form. More likely, we think, it’s because she booked it through Expedia. “Would you like your breakfast at 6.30, 7.30 or 10.30?”, he asked. “Err, none of those, thanks, can we have a room service breakfast?”, Paula asked. “Yes”, he replied, “but again only at 6.30, 7.30 or 10.30”, so she knew she was beaten.
We walked down the smart leafy Promenade to find a few shops unsurprisingly empty and all others limiting customer numbers, imploring mask use and proffering hand sanitiser. We walked into Marks and Spencer and found it almost empty of customers and quite dreary, no wonder they’re struggling. We queued for a cup of tea and a biscuit, half price because of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme and considered ourselves to not be helping out too much but the tea was lovely, fresh and welcome.
A gentle stroll back to The Queens and we found a new, much friendlier person at the front desk. Emboldened, Paula asked for a room on a lower floor and she was given a key for a side-facing first floor room, quite like the old days. Still the creaky floorboards as you exit the small lift and the well-remembered crown-topped decoration in the centre of the stairwell. Our room has been nicely refurbished but is too warm. The window is open so we close it and turn on the air conditioning only to find out a few minutes later why the window was open as we begin to expire. Ok, wildly ineffective aircon, just like the old days. The five foot bed is partnered with a new eight foot headboard. The bath in the en-suite has been replaced with a large modern walk-in shower. We find a tea tray in the wardrobe with only a single mug which has a black curly hair sitting in it, so much for enhanced hygiene. The fridge, also in the wardrobe, is empty, presumably for hygiene reasons. We call down for new mugs and some proper milk.
The hotel restaurant, only open to residents at the present time, is fully booked this evening, thankyou for your understanding. We’re booked elsewhere tonight so there, but thanks for the warm welcome.
We had an uncomfortable night. Not because of the very comfortable bed or the thin, worse-than-useless pillows but because the aircon really was hopeless and the room was hot. We had an entertaining lightning storm to watch around midnight and at 8am I paid for another car parking ticket from my phone and walked up Montpelier to find a proper coffee. I found a coffee bar just opening with a delightfully chatty waitress cum barista who made me a wonderful flat white before I returned to our room to begin writing this dreary and over-long review.
We were in the breakfast queue at 10.25 and were led to a bare table on which was a notice stating it had been ‘Thoughtfully disinfected’, whatever that meant, but we guessed it to be one step down from ‘Thoroughly disinfected’. A masked waitress carried over a large wooden tray full of breakfast bits and pieces, toast, two measly foil-wrapped pats of butter, jams, crockery and irons and then returned with a number of plastic containers containing our cereal and fruit orders. A pot of tea and one of coffee was also brought and we finally plunged into our brunch. Both the tea and coffee were undrinkable, probably having been made for the 7.30 sitting and reheated. We awaited our eggs with some trepidation and they arrived on the hottest plates I’ve ever experienced. Paula’s scrambled egg was oddly granulated and still cooking on the red-hot plate, my single poached egg was small, pale yellow but otherwise pleasant. The undercooked toast was hot, presumably from the fiery plate, but strangely rubbery. We did have a nice croissant each though.
Due to the current situation the hotel will not service your room unless specifically requested, thankyou for you understanding, so we specifically requested it be serviced, albeit minimally, thankyou for your understanding. We left for a nice day out around the Cotswolds.
When we returned we found the room had not been serviced, there were no teabags and it was again boiling hot. Our four star hotel understandings were now exhausted. First world problems, maybe, but poor service indeed from a romantic old hotel. We’re happy to leave it another 35 years before we return again.
Wish you were here.