When you think of the word ‘bar’ images flood in of a less than salubrious establishment selling alcoholic beverages with perhaps a pork scratching or two thrown in for good measure. All set on the shadowy backdrop of a cigar tainted fog with mutterings of locals regaling stories, animatedly exaggerating every syllable.
In York, ‘bar’ has two meanings. One; as above, of which there is reportedly one for every day of the year and two; as gatehouses punctuating the city walls.
There are four of them. The most important of the four was Micklegate Bar. The main road to and from the south passed through it. Historically the bar was the focus of civic gatherings or for greeting a royal monarch. Today when the Queen visits York she must stop at Mickelgate Bar and ask permission from the Lord Mayor to enter the city.
Thankfully for non-royal visitors that is not the case.
No permission needed.
There was also a more macabre use. They displayed the severed heads of traitors or rebels as a warning to others. Such as that of Sir Henry Percy in 1403. Nicknamed ‘Hotspur’ by the Scots, he got his title for his speed in advancing north and his readiness to attack.
Perfectly located halfway between London and Edinburgh, the speed of advancement these days is also swift. Trains pass through York regularly depositing passengers just outside the city walls. The train station itself is a design masterpiece. Its curved roof was crafted by architect Thomas Prosser, and it is often referred to as ‘one of the great cathedrals of the Railway Age’.
Today it’s less soot and more soya latte.
With one in hand, it doesn’t take long to stumble into the entangled history of the city as you make your way to The Grand. Immediately you pass the cholera burial ground which was acquired in 1832 as a final resting place for 185 victims of the plague.
Suddenly, you are aware of an imposing red brick building emerging stealthily from the shadows of the wall.
And there she is, The Grand.
Once the headquarters of the North-eastern Railway Company, it was transformed in 1906 to the only five-star hotel in York. The intricate stone motif with ‘head office’ above the door stamps its place in history.
Swarming by the entrance are Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Mercedes vehicles. Just in case you were in any doubt of its five-star status.
The doorman is wonderfully knowledgeable in equal measures to helpful, dressed in a top hat with a gold band, red waist coat and masterfully shone shoes. He is the embodiment of charm, guiding you through the solid wooden doors into the reception where your journey begins.
Inside is reminiscent of a stately hall or even a town hall. Black and white marble checked floors frame the reception. The marble doesn’t appear to have an ending, slithering up the walls to meet the chiselled cornices of the ceiling.
King Edward VII’s reign from 1901 to 1910 perhaps isn’t as well-known as his mother Victoria’s, however it did produce architectural marvels, with a romantic yet functional twist and this is one of them.
Original wood panelling, sweeping stone staircases lined with wrought iron handrails, hugely heavy radiators, ornate archways, and bold brass lights.
The railway influence permeates throughout.
Pause for a moment, close your eyes, and you could be transported to the set of the movie Brief Encounter, where Laura and Alec become embroiled in a torrid love affair after a chance encounter at a train station. Seeing the train pull away melancholically as they gaze wistfully at each other has left many yearning to be wanted as fiercely.
I am certain many love affairs began at The Grand. If only walls could talk.
Old meets new in the hallways with black and white images of York’s iconic streets and buildings. They lead the way to the 1906 bar, named after the year of its inception. It has all the glamour of first-class rail travel, infused with modern luxury. Velvet cushions and light grey lamps are emblazoned with ‘1906’. By the door there is a whiskey library showcasing the best from around the world. Some bottles are emptier than others.
There is a particular scent at the hotel, a comforting mix of not just the vast array of vibrant flowers but of aromas that soothe the soul. It could be the Molten Brown influence, which is dotted throughout.
The bedrooms span two wings. Again, old meets new.
The choice is yours.
In the original building the corridors are spacious, with arched dark wooden doorways and half-moon glass windows. The Edwardian design ensures that every room is very generous in size, with heavy doors, tall ceilings, large windows, and architectural surprises, such as port holes. There are two room numbers, the previous kept as a reminder of its past life.
The new wing opened in 2018. The bedrooms are dressed in navy and light browns. A modern spin on farmhouse chic. Each wing has wall to celling marble bathrooms.
A welcome gift of prosecco can be enjoyed while gazing adoringly at the view of York Minster, one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals.
The hotel couldn’t be better placed to explore.
Everything is walking distance, just cross the River Ouse and get lost in the streets or ‘gates’ as they are called. One of the best-preserved medieval streets is called the Shambles, it was mentioned in the Doomsday book in 1086 AD. Or venture to Whipmawhopmagate, the shortest street with the longest name.
Breakfast and dinner are served in the Rise Restaurant. Locals also flock to cradle a cocktail on the outside terrace.
Dinner is a feast of local ingredients, such as The Grand Scotch egg or Yorkshire duck breast. You can also book in for afternoon tea, Yorkshire tea blends are a must.
The Grand Spa is in the former vaults. Passing through the protective steel doors you arrive at a deceptively spacious spa area that includes a 14-metre swimming pool, jacuzzi and treatment rooms watched over by Roman statues. Giving a nod to yet another era in York’s history.
Even though the walls were built to keep people out, venture through the bars and along the gates until you reach The Grand.
They will welcome you with open arms.
Again, no permission needed.
For more information visit The Grand, York
To plan your trip visit Visit York