My favourite was Granada’s tilt at Forte in 1996 – apocryphally launched by Gerry Robinson while Sir Rocco Forte was away shooting in Yorkshire. He never got over the shock.
Granada’s victory won it control of the Savoy group of hotels, which had been split by a power struggle between Forte and Sir Hugh Wontner, the Savoy’s bombastic chairman. He was fond of put-downs such as: ‘Italians make good hotel managers’. His chief lieutenant, Giles Shepard, had decamped to The Ritz to be replaced by Ramon Pajares, a respected hotel executive.
Tasked with modernising the Savoy, Pajares became an immediate target for the Savoy old guard. They sneered at his Spanish accent. There was outrage at the lifting of a ban on mobiles.
The pace of change accelerated under the Savoy’s current owner, Blackstone, the US private equity group. The Savoy Grill bears little resemblance to the power canteen of old. Now the River Restaurant, with its wonderful views of the Thames, it is being turned into a corporate entertaining venue.
That’s a shame – but Pajares, who left the Savoy in 1999, would like to be remembered for positive reforms. I annoyed him recently by suggesting that he’d ‘gutted’ the Savoy lobby. Pajares tells me he went to great pains to respect the past when restoring the lobby. The only things gutted, he says, were the cheap commercial showcases that were cluttering up the place.
He undoubtedly meant well, but the Savoy never felt quite the same after that. Closing the River Restaurant smacks, dare I say it, of a hotel run not by hoteliers, but by accountants.
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