WTF Wednesday: Montcalm Hotel at the Brewery, London

Posted on
May 8, 2013

Spoiler: this skybridge will get you NOWHERE.

This WTF Weds takes us back to London. But I start out with a little anecdote about Portland. It’s cool if you get confused. That’s how I spend most of my life.

Last weekend I was in Portland, and despite being a city that I know and can navigate quite well, the following happened:

  • I walked four blocks in the exact opposite direction that I needed to go, and didn’t realize it until I literally collided with a posted map of the city and saw that I was no where close to where I needed to be.
  • Despite Rand telling me to “Keep going straight”, I kept asking him if I should take every single turn that we passed. At one point he just stared at me and said, “You are joking, right?” I wasn’t.
  • We’d been to our hotel so many times that the valets recognized us. I still required directions to get there.
  • Even while in possession of a map on which directions had been traced out for me in black ink, I got lost.
  • I forgot where I parked the car and so our friend Matt had to drive us around for 20 minutes in the middle of the night trying to find it. Even though I knew the name of the street where I’d left it, I still couldn’t figure it out.

The point is that I have zero sense of direction. I would like to note that mine is far better than my mother’s or my beloved auntie’s (it is a miracle that they haven’t gotten permanently lost while walking to the mailbox and back), but still manages to be absolutely abysmal. I have an excellent memory, but my spacial awareness, my ability to envision how a city is laid out, to get my bearings and understand where things are in relation to each other are virtually non-existent.

You’d assume then, that if we stayed at a hotel with a ridiculously and non-intuitive layout that I’d get ridiculously lost, right? Especially if that hotel were in a foreign country where jet lag and exhaustion were clouding my senses even more, right? But amazingly, quite the opposite was true.

When we were in London last month, we stayed at the The Montcalm Hotel at the Brewery. It is like an M.C. Escher painting come to life. There are staircases that wind up to nothing. The numbers on the rooms – hell, even the numbers on floors – seem to be assigned rather randomly. Room 323 is several long hallways and three flights of stairs (2 up, one down) away from Room 324.

Notice that certain consecutively numbered rooms are nowhere NEAR each other.

As best as I can understand, this is how the hotel came to be:

  • An old brewery was purchased, along with three other nearby buildings, which together form a sort of square O-shape when seen from above.
  • Whoever purchased the brewery started devising a way to link all of these structures together, presumably after imbibing whatever beer had been left in the building (for it could not have been a sober endeavor). A few skybridges and walkways were incorporated, but the original structure of each of the buildings wasn’t touched. Unfortunately, the different floors of each of the buildings don’t line up.
  • Nor do the elevator shafts.
  • And come to think of it, the skybridges don’t really line up properly to any of the floors either.
  • Whoever assigned the numbers to the doors of the suites may have done so under duress. I assume they were being chased by a pack of wild animals.
  • Meth-amphetamines may have been involved.

The result is a building that feels a little bit like Frankenstein’s monster. Disparate pieces have come together to create a sheer abomination. A cautionary reminder that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

I don’t mean to suggest that the hotel lacks any redeeming characteristics. Like the crudely stitched monster, it most certainly does. But they are often hard to find – literally. The restaurant was excellent; we spent 20 minutes looking for it every morning. Eventually we found it was easier to just walk outside of the building, head down the block, and enter through a different doorway.

Actually, come to think of it, that might not have been the same restaurant each time. Whatever. They still fed us.

We found that it was virtually impossible to get to any room in the hotel without taking at least one elevator and one flight of stairs. Most rooms required two different elevators and numerous flights of stairs.

Rand and I took an elevator …

Walked down a flight of stairs …

Crossed this skybridge …

Walked up another flight of stairs …

And headed down this hallway, before finding our room, which was on the 1st floor above the lobby.

This is one of those situations where my explanation of it will do absolutely no justice, so here’s a video that Rand snapped of the entire thing.

Watch carefully for the following: (also, have you noticed how many lists are in this post? I’m really into lists lately. This next one is even numbered!)

  1. I tell Rand to calm down when he starts to panic that we’ll never find our room again.
  2. A brief discussion about the size of my butt.
  3. I seem to sort of know where we’re going!

You’d think, in a scenario like this, where left is right and up is down and there are at least 14 ways to get from your room to lobby (and 57 ways to get lost in between), that my sense of direction would doom me to wander the halls for the rest of my days. Blissfully, that didn’t happen.

Everyone else got lost or really confused, but I was okay. Why? Because that building is my life. My hopeless sense of direction means that my entire world looks like that, all the time. So while everyone else was thrown for a loop because the hotel had rendered reference points and logical layouts useless, I was totally fine because I’ve managed to forge an existence without those things.

I just obeyed the signs, even when they defied logic. I even followed the signs that seemed to be fighting with themselves.

Okay. Sure. Whatever you say, crazy sign.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I knew where I was going. I was hopelessly lost; we all were. I’ve just had more practice.

Leave a Comment

  • My gawd, what would the hotel guests do in a fire drill?! That was a crazy puzzle of stairs and hallways.

  • I think a horror movie could be made in those halls! I can’t imagine tackling that with severe jet lag!

  • I have a pretty good sense of direction, but I don’t think even I could navigate this crazy-making place. Stuff like this when I travel, especially after a long drive or flight, would drive me bonkers.

  • I’m pretty sure my vocabulary would have been nothing but explicitives by this point!

  • Ruth

    My favorite two moments of the hotel were:

    1.) Upon check-in, I asked the concierge to tell me what our room number was. She refused, saying “I’ll have someone show you where your room is.” That was how we learned that the room numbers meant NOTHING.

    2.) At one point, while searching in vain for our room, we passed a room service waiter and smiled at him ruefully, thinking HE must surely know where he’s going. Until 5 minutes later, backtracking from a dead end, when we saw him also still wandering around in search of the correct room.

    • Ruth

      Oh also at one point I used the bathroom off of the reception area, and the toilet paper in there was black for some reason, probably because AAAAAAAAA.

  • A.Red

    wow what a head ache I have gotten from this video lol. Eventhough the place seems very intresting. I love london.

  • I think trying to get from one room to the next sequential number would give me jet lag!

  • Lauren

    Your and Rand’s voices sound so different to how I imagined!!! This has totally weirded out my whole day! I’ve been reading your blog for ever now and had created this voice in my head that narrated the posts as I read which for some reason I just assumed was your real voice. Ok now I sound a little crazy but seriously, it’s like when a movie of your favourite book comes out and the character isn’t exactly how you imagined in your head. Biggest mindfuck.

  • Christie

    At the risk of sounding creepy (I promise I am alarmingly normal), it was very curious to me, to hear your voice, and that of the infamous Rand. I’ve been reading your blog for about two years now, and just learned that my mental creation of Geraldine sounds nothing like your real voice. It’s like the first time I heard someone say Hermione Granger’s name out loud, and it was nothing like the pronunciation I had created in my head whilst absorbing Harry Potter.

    But, fun twist, now I have the correct voices in my mind while I read your posts, which can only be a positive thing 🙂

    • I felt the same way! Haha super intrigued to hear their voices! Love it!

    • Julie

      Me too!! Your voice in reality sounds nothing like what I had imagined after years of reading. It’s quite lovely to finally hear what you sound like and to see you in motion!

  • Oh my god I was in a hotel just like this!! Except I think it was in Edinburgh. I arrived in quite a whirlwind to be taken to my room through a rabbit warren of upstairs then downstairs then upstairs and everything looked the same! There were long hallways thrown in and equally unhelpful signs indicating room numbers on one level and completely different numbers on a seemingly mezzanine level!
    I was panicked when I had to leave the room, only to discover that my room was TWO STEPS AWAY from a door that opened DIRECTLY onto the lobby!! What was that guy on?!

  • It’s a good thing you were able to make it out of there (you did right?) I probably would have become a permanent resident if I stayed there – not by choice – but because I wouldn’t be able to find my way out of there!

  • OMG that video was so stressful!! I think I would have crumbled into a pile on one of those billion staircase landings!

  • McKayla

    Some crazy little part of me wants to stay at this hotel now. Like, really badly.
    Also, it was lovely finally hearing your voices, but they were not at all what I had expected them to be. It’s weird how our minds automatically make up voices for people we’ve never met, and it’s even weirder having those assumptions shattered.

  • WOW! We have the exact same non-existent sense of direction! My 4 year old nephew asks me at the beginning of every drive in the car, “how many times do we turn around today?” At least 3 little boy, at least 3.

  • Jay

    Hmmm – so I guess it’s not wheelchair accessible?

  • Thought I would shed some light on why the Brewery was such a monster. It is a Grade II listed building, which means (according to our good friend wikipedia)

    “A listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority (which typically consults the relevant central government agency, particularly for significant alterations to the more notable listed buildings). Exemption from secular listed building control is provided for some buildings in current use for worship, but only in cases where the relevant religious organisation operates its own equivalent permissions procedure. Owners of listed buildings are, in some circumstances, compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so or if they perform unauthorised alterations. The listing procedure allows for buildings to be removed from the list if the listing is shown to be in error.”

    In reality it means that the building is of special historical interest, and therefore, when any alterations are made, there is A LOT or red tape to go through, making it almost impossible to change it in a way that strays too far from the original.

    For example, an owner of a listed building might not be able to put in double glazing, if it changes the external view of the building, so what you have with the Brewery is a brewery that’s been converted whilst still conforming to Grade II listed status, hence it was never an option to gut the interior and make it actually work, they had to work with what was already there

  • Katie

    I loved the video. I think it would be fun to get lost in the hotel…the first time. After a long day or a night out, I think it would get a little old.

  • Well, if you found your way around that hotel you’ll do well in Asunción’s public transport system then…

  • This made me laugh because I’m exactly like you – a hopeless case when it comes to directions. First it was my best friend who had to literally explain to me every step I had to take to go see her in the downtown of the city I’ve lived in for years. And now it’s my husband when we’re out on our trips. I don’t even bother reading maps, but sometimes it can get a little nerve wracking when you’re married to directional genius.

  • Beth

    Hilarious. I have always felt like I was missing some sixth sense that everyone else had. Especially indoors. I have gotten lost countless times in doctors’ offices trying to find my way out through the maze of hallways. I opened the door to a broom closet in the eye doctor’s office which of course caused peals of laughter and comments about REALLY needing glasses. What a relief to know I’m not alone!

  • Anisa

    I had to laugh at this post. I too, am directionally challenged. If I was staying at that hotel I would go out for ice and never be seen from again!
    Your Portland comments made me chuckle a bit. I just returned from there a few days ago. We were walking around a neighborhood not far from Hawthorne and just passed a house. I said to my husband ” oh, I like that house. ” He said ” I know, you said that the last time we walked past it.” So apparently I can walk down the same street several times and not even realize it.

  • Just seeing this now, and I know the crisis is past, but:

    You’re an awesome writer

    People like to read about travel

    Readers enjoy light, funny things when times are tough (the golden age of comedy? The 1940s!)

    …And when they’re not

    …So, pretty much any time

    There will always be cranks, naysayers, weirdoes and bringers down. Our job is to ignore them. (Do you *need a “comments” feature?)

    There will always be writers to inform and comment on Serious Things

    I don’t solicit opinions about my work, but whenever someone manages to impart an unwanted opinion, I remember two sayings:

    “Let ’em all go to hell

  • OK, well, that sent itself before it was ready to go–and it was supposed to have spaces!

    The sayings, from 2000-Year-Old Man and anonymous, respectively:

    “Let ’em all go to hell, except Cave 76!”

    Don’t know why, but that always makes me feel better.

    …And “F ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

    You go, G!

  • …And, apparently, I posted in the wrong place. I give up. (*Do you need comments?)

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