At some point, everyone in the UK will have seen ABBA Voyage. By word of mouth, it is a phenomenon that cannot be resisted, even by the most kitsch haters. I went recently and, like everyone I know, found it extremely challenging in terms of genre, as exciting as it is expensive and very strange.
A friend from Philadelphia sat next to me and repeated every few minutes: “Look, I’m sorry, but they’re not holograms.” Meanwhile, my big sister was dancing like no one was watching and slowly losing her mind. With Dancing Queen, she had gone through the looking glass.
One of the strange aspects of going to ABBA Voyage is going to Stratford – which, even before the 2012 Olympics and the construction of that strange red Anish Kapoor thing with a Carsten Höller slide weaving through it, was said to be a neighborhood London defines the future.
It is one of the best-connected places in the city in terms of transport, and the mega-Westfield has both a casino and a branch of Greggs. There really is something for everyone. And yet it feels like a non-place in the search for identity.
Perhaps this could finally be changing, with Sadler’s Wells East scheduled to open there this year and V&A East to come. Then there is the field of the MSG Sphere that has been planned for a long time, and if completed it will dwarf everything else in the area, its entire surface covered in more than 1m LEDs to beam visual nonsense throughout the entire neighborhood. Hmm.
The Gantry hotel has recently opened across the road from the station, on the brilliantly named Celebration Avenue. Apart from the small pods in the Snoozebox opposite the arena, and the Stratford (housed in a skyscraper with an excellent restaurant, Allegra) the Gantry is perhaps the default hotel for those at home for ABBA – and certainly for those on they want to do it in style.
It is one of the Hilton’s new Curio Collection and works well as a new local landmark. It is a glass box, 18 stories high, covered in a kind of sculptural bird, with an elegant arched grid. Once inside, you know the drill – switch things 180 degrees from corporate blandness, throw in a funky-looking coffee shop in the lobby and a pop-up restaurant specializing in dumplings.
The bedrooms upstairs are a beautiful blue colour. To reassure you that this is a 21st century version of the Hilton, there is a coffee pod machine, along with fancy martini glasses on the minibar that are ersatz cut crystal.
There are full-length mirrors with rounded edges, furniture that looks like metal travel trunks, and a few industrial touches, like metal cogs on the wall next to monochrome photos of watches and a typewriter. Everything feels fresh. You will sleep well here after the show. My only complaint about my room was that it didn’t have a functional desk area – which is essential if you have a part-time business anywhere.
Apart from its proximity to the ABBA Arena, would you choose this hotel to stay in London? With the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, maybe you should: it’s 16 minutes from here to Bond Street, which still blows my mind – and so it should, with 13 years of rail service.
I checked in, dropped off my bags and headed to the bar, Coupe, hoping to work my way through the list of British sparkling wines that the hotel does so well. But Coupe was kaput for the evening, so I went to the bar a few seats away where they still had Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs from Kent by the glass.
The bar was a mix of residents, locals and an after-work crowd. Indeed, people live and work in all those new buildings nearby, and as casual bars and restaurants go, the Union Social lounge is close to perfect. There are views across the beautiful Stratford hinterland and a crowd-pleasing menu: crispy cauliflower pops with a miso glaze are a good vegan option in place of popcorn chicken, the wild mushroom falafel is moist and tasty, and the beef is on point. sweet parsnip patty. It is the cosiest of comfort foods.
A few floors up is a branch of STK, a restaurant that was a hit when I first went to the New York original in 2007, and whose DJ promises to “create an infectious, high-energy atmosphere”. Not just me, but who knows – if you’re really good at ABBA, it might be just the ticket.
Doubles from £189, including breakfast. There are 20 accessible rooms