In the heart of Londons West End, the first hotel from this new spin-off brand is big on slick tech and design features but small on actual room space
Rooms at hub by Premier Inn, in central London, are minimal, a bit sci-fi, smooth and clean.
I walk straight past the hub by Premier Inn when I arrive from the Trafalgar Square end of St Martins Lane. All those Lenny Henry ads have programmed my brain to expect a purple hue and I wasnt looking for low-key, lime-green branding.
Im met by a couple of cool young things who ask me how Im doing and if I have any evening plans. Fine, I say. Yes. They seem a bit put out that I havent downloaded the hotels app, which lets guests control the TV, lights and air-con from a phone, contains a city guide and eases the check-in process. But their smiles only wane for an instant and Im soon directed, via the lifts, to my fourth-floor room.
As I walk down the long corridor, passing a door every couple of steps its quite a warren its clear what Premier Inn owner Whitbread is up to. For over a decade, hoteliers in cities like Berlin and Amsterdam, aping their Tokyo sleep-in-a-tube precursors, have been selling us tiny cells as if they were a contemporary lifestyle decision. Were meant to congratulate ourselves on being low-impact, no-frills, no-fuss, and cheap. Its considered cutting-edge to regard a hotel as chiefly a bed, because its implied were too busy consuming the city to stay in.
But is this true? If that lower-case name were not proof enough, my room confirms that the designers of hub by Premier Inn have done their research. From the glass-walled loo, to the small bed against the wall, to the blinding whiteness of the dcor, Im in a wholly functional space. Ive got a large suitcase, as Im flying overseas in the morning, but dare not open it. Theres a narrow, alfresco slit for hanging up a coat and maybe a shirt. Theres a small chair, but not much of a window to sit beside and that window is, of course, sealed tight against carbon monoxide/traffic noise/my committing suicide.
Theres a nifty slide-out desk and some useful under-bed storage, which is just as well because though these rooms are targeted at singletons Ive made the fatal mistake of inviting my girlfriend. When she arrives with her smaller weekend case, we have to laugh at our cramped conditions. But who will sleep by the wall?
Hub by Premier Inn
I actually like the design: minimal, a bit sci-fi, smooth and clean. The map-inspired artwork is nice. But a lot of the aesthetic is about whats lacking. The hotel has no gym or pool. The room has no bath. No fridge. No stuff. No space.
After steamy-hot showers with Original Source shower gel (provided), we want to eat, but not the snacks and sarnies on sale in the hotels funky deli-cum-cafe. St Martins Lane is one of the best locations in London, a hop away from Covent Garden, Soho, the Strand or the Thames, and five minutes walk from the South Bank. That places a lot of culture and food within walking distance.
On our return, other guests are doing the same. Some are single business people. Theres a Spanish couple on a tight budget carrying a supermarket supper. We also spot some sixtysomething theatregoers the Coliseum, home of the English National Opera, is just across the road. We bump into them at the refreshments stand, where free Twinings teas and coffee available 24 hours a day is a generous touch.
The double bed is soft and cool. I get the outer edge. The TV is flush with my toes and looks huge. There are some tricksy buttons behind my head, and it takes a while to work out which are for lights, sound or heating. But, come sleep time, its deadly quiet once Ive killed the fan in the aircon. During the night, my ear switches on some of the buttons and they glow a fluorescent blue. I cant work out how to turn them off. I should have got the app
Leaving, I grab a great little fruit and granola breakfast from the deli and re-enter the normal world. Yes, it feels just like that. The hub idea is hotel as airlock, storage dock and recharging unit. Whitbread is planning dozens of them, and Ive no doubt they will suit travellers who just need to crash out between meetings or flights. But I like staying in, and no one not even Lenny Henry will convince me this kind of experience is enhancing my lifestyle or upping my hipness quotient.