Through all the recent years of upheaval, some have soldiered on. The Grand Bretagne, known universally as the GB, saw occupancy go down to 24% at its nadir. From time to time ground floor windows had to be boarded up and doors sealed as its location at the north-east corner of Syntagma Square, across the road from Parliament, made it extremely vulnerable to protestors. As of 2017, the gal was told, the situation began to improve, and now, once again, the hotel is busy: occupancy this year should close at 78%. The gorgeous inner Winter Garden, at the rear of the main lobby, has the afternoon tea crowd, and, day and evening long, groups chatting, and enjoying themselves in the way Greeks do.
Cleverly, even before the troubles started, GM Tim Ananiadis (above) had closed one eating-drinking place, GB Corner, and converted it into the GB Concept Store. Entry is from the hotel lobby or direct from Panepistimiou: an upper gallery allows quiet seating and meeting, while downstairs there are well-displayed belts and shoes from Zeus+Aione, and macaroons and other sweet things from consultant Paris-based patissier Arnaud Larher, often called the ‘star of Montmartre’. There are Zegna items here too, so you have a full range of gifts, as souvenirs of your ‘trip to Paris’, to keep or give to friends. Although everything is displayed as if on Rodeo Drive, the Concept Store’s main decoration is a living olive tree, about ten feet high
Soon after arriving I headed up to the hotel’s seventh floor terrace pool. This is strictly hotel-guests only, accessed by your room key, and certainly provides relief from the hubbub that is sometimes down in the lobby and, at any time, in the street outside (see a video of walking from Ermou pedestrian street into Syntagma). The outside pool, by contrast, is so calm you feel like talking in whispers. I like the way that the pool bar, with tempting arrays of bottles displayed alongside a glass-fronted chilled cabinet of Mövenpick icecream, is bordered by a white high-up dining counter, guarded, as it were, by several flourishing herb pots.
The Pool Grill menu is local, and basic healthy food. I asked what someone else was eating and obviously enjoying. Souvlaki, I was told, and it was, indeed, delicious – two wood skewers holding six bites of pork, four pieces of pita, tomatoes, onions, cucumber-tzatziki dipping sauce and, bliss, skinny fries. Tim Ananiadis arrived, unexpectedly. He often slips away from business to have a quiet lunch here but today he chatted away nonstop, sharing the great news about better business, and the fact that not one of the 650 employees was let go, though retirees were not replaced, everyone, from top to toe, took a pay cut and some stepped back temporarily from full-time to part-time. But now the mood and business at this memorable Athens hotel is once again on the rise, and life around it is busy, AS THIS VIDEO SHOWS