Where: Elephant and Castle, London, UK
Long story short: Elevated youth-hostelry reflecting the transformation of its surrounding neighbourhood
Short story long: It’s hard to come up with a name for anything, really, that doesn’t sound rubbish. Radiohead? Great band. Terrible name. I’m too lazy to think of other examples, but think of any beat combo, film, restaurant or improv troupe and you’ll get the drift pretty sharpish.
It’s a bold decision, then, for Safestay – “a safe and secure place to stay” to quote their website – to have chosen the name they have. The mere mention of ‘safe’ immediately implies an abstract, looming danger, and it becomes a place to escape the mean, lawless streets of Elephant and Castle. Guys, this neighbourhood is changing. There are huge murals of artists’ impressions of the redevelopment with lots of smiling white people. It’s fine.
(Side note: Safestay also have hostels in the presumably extremely safe locations of Holland Park and York, where the name is probably less ominous.)
The generic category of “youth hostel” also depresses me, but that’s just a personal regret about my advanced years and it’s hardly their fault that everybody else checking in is about 18.
This youth aspect probably accounts for the pretty strict operational regimen. There was no checking in before 2pm, even when I nonchalantly smarmed up to the desk at 1.55pm. I can understand. Give these kids an inch, they’ll take a mile and then a selfie and then start questioning your authority on Snapchat.
I’d arrived at 11.30am, weighed down with luggage and (physically) unwilling to walk around so I immediately got to know some of the public areas. Hostels these days are more like a Starbucks inside an IKEA where you can crash out in the bedding section , not like the charmless mould-traps of yesteryear.
Downstairs in the bar they’re playing a 90s hip-hop Spotify playlist and Japanese teenagers are ordering lattes while they blog about the lesser known bars of Dalston. The décor is all “popping” pinks and greens, and they’ve got those chairs with oversized backs that you can’t help slump into – I’ll call the theme ‘chillaxative’, if you’ll indulge me.
The magic hour of 2pm soon rolls by (they have great WiFi, because YOUTH), and I scoot up to my en suite (I can’t share a sleeping space, it’s my number one worst fear about wrongful imprisonment).
It’s pretty airy, clean and very purple. Think of the bedroom that the rock star Prince probably had as an 11 year old and you’re pretty much there. The basics are all present and correct – for the money (from around £26 for a night per person) and the Zone One status it’s actually pretty impressive.
The reception acts as tourist information desk and there seems to be free shuttles and the like for those Japanese bloggers and The Euro-American catalogue models that seemed to make up the rest of the guests.
The location is a short walk from the tube, but not too far to lug a backpack, and it’s reassuringly close to my favourite Chinese restaurant in London (the Golden Dragon) as well as my favourite steak house (La Bodeguita, the Latin American one in the shopping centre).
One lesser-known fact that probably goes unnoticed by the millennial hordes: the building has some historical significance, being as it is the former Labour Party headquarters (pre-shiny New Labour, though that lot would probably be more at home in the gaff as it is now). The lowdown is that it’s actually an 18th-century townhouse – hence the four stars from Visit England (one of only two hostels in London to receive that rating).
The bunks and room are comfy enough despite the temperature control being a fixed binary of window open/window closed. The check out time of 10am is something to watch for – but wise heads will get up even earlier and be having breakfast by nine as those youngsters leave things to the last minute and form a surly, bed-headed queue at 9.55.
God, I sound old.
Champagne tastes: Splashing out for a private room to yourself is as flash as it gets, really. I guess you could buy one of everything in the amenities cabinet at reception and break into a double-figure incidentals bill?
Shandy pockets: All the rest of it.
144-152 Walworth Rd, London, www.safestay.com
Paul Oswell was a guest of Safestay.
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