As James Bond and “Skyfall” shoot up theaters around the world, Brits walk from Parliament Square past New Scotland Yard in Central London never realizing there’s a once and future spy HQ in their midst.
The St. Ermin’s Hotel stands in the shadow of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Its proximity to the Houses of Parliament and the dominions of power along Whitehall makes the hotel and its bar a popular stop for the be-suited leading and protecting Her Majesty’s UK subjects.
Built on the site of a 15th century chapel dedicated to the hotel’s namesake saint, the Ermin’s Hotel was built from modified private mansions in 1889. Over the years, it became a popular watering hole for Winston Churchill and other prominent British figures.
However, it was its quiet, lesser recognized visitors that gave the Ermin’s its unique history. The St Ermin’s location smack in the middle of the St. James’s Park neighborhood and near Pall Mall made it a popular meeting point and drop spot for London spies. In fact, the former World War II era home of MI6 stands only a couple blocks away.
After a multi-million dollar renovation, the Ermin’s lobby is now glittering white with its bar a modem, state of the art lounge. But the anonymous dark walls and intimate lighting of its old interior made it easier for British spies to come and go without attracting too much attention.
Its role in World War II is the hotel’s most haunting claim to fame. From 1938 and well into the war, the SIS Department D (for Destruction) occupied the top floors of the hotel. While hotel guests holed up at the Ermin’s – eating, drinking and enjoying the rooms – British demolition agents would slink up to the penthouse levels to plan their next mission against Germany.
Unbeknownst to the guests below, Department D kept the tools of its trade in the same building – meaning a stockpile of explosives slept just a few floors above weary visitors every night.
Modern visitors can tuck in for the night secure in the knowledge that the explosives have been removed from the premises – replaced by elegant and refined rooms, complete with satellite TV, sumptuous beds and wifi.
While the spies may have checked out, it seems Parliamentary ministers still pay regular visits. A specially installed bell wired into the lobby sounds in unison with any summons in the Houses of Parliament. Once that bell rings, the ministers have just long enough to hustle over to Westminster Palace to make their votes.
Meanwhile, most of the spies hang out at MI6’s huge complex down the River Thames, the hotel’s busiest and most mysterious guests these days are honey bees – three hives of them, in fact. Toiling away on an observation deck on the hotel’s third floor, the bees create the Ermin’s own special brand of honey – fed by the hotel’s own flower garden that surrounds the grounds’ front approach.
Few hotels in the UK can match the Ermin’s mix of location. history, adventure, comfort and style. An attraction in and of itself, it makes a perfect central HQ for any tourist sent to spy on London.