From the outside, there’s nothing very grand about the Grand. It’s big, yes, but so’s the Hilton next door. The late 19th century facade, no doubt the height of innovation at the time, today bears an unfortunate resemblance to scaffolding, more so since so many buildings along the seafront seem to be in an almost constant state of renovation.
But perhaps that’s just one of the pitfalls of being by the sea. With rooms going for upwards of £350 a night, I assumed that Brighton’s most famous hotel must surely live up to its name. The scene that greeted me as I entered the somewhat underwhelming lobby set the tone for the rest of my stay. A brightly-dressed, middle-aged lady sat next to an empty, novelty ice cream stall feeding her two fat pugs from dinner plates on the floor. Lovingly she purred to them, as the staff looked on affectionately. The sweet, meaty smell of dog food wafted through the air. Among the lower classes such eccentricity provokes disdain and fear; if you have money it’s merely charming.
There’s admittedly something aristocratic about the Grand: tatty and poorly maintained, with a complacency only the upper classes can muster. But now I’m being harsh. The service was, in fact, outstanding. I booked a single room during mid-week for a bargainous £100-odd per night. I knew the room would be poky but I didn’t expect it to be noisy. All eight of the Grand’s singles back onto some kind of central air conditioning system that makes the Grade II listed windows rattle in their well-restored wooden frames. This must be a common complaint, because when I mentioned it to a receptionist, she upgraded me immediately to a spacious and silent double. No balcony or sea view, but hey…
And, to be fair, the renovated rooms are decent enough. It still seems obscenely overpriced, but such is the poor standard of medium and large hotels in Brighton that somehow the Grand is still in business. Thriving, I suspect, like much of the rest of the town, on peddling repackaged nostalgia to an urban crowd starved of true tradition.
Yet for all its stuffiness, the Grand made me happy in the end, thanks for the most part to its staff. After a heavy night out catching up with old friends, I stumbled, clearly suffering, into a breakfast room of white starched tablecloths and silver cutlery. Instead of eye rolls and sideways glances, the head waiter ushered me straight to a seat in the corner, and whisked over some fresh orange juice and a black coffee with a discreet wink and friendly smile. The next morning, refreshed, I overslept and missed breakfast by a good half hour. The same waiter worked his magic and had a full English in front of me within minutes, and we chatted across the empty room as he cleared the morning’s chaos away.
Overall I’ll remember the Grand fondly, as I do Brighton itself: for that endless ocean, and the kindness of strangers.