HOPE STREET: Look at it this way
It won Best Street in the Great Streets Awards (that’s a thing). But, as the hotel’s slap-bang in the middle of Hope Street, the choice is yours. Left or right? I’m heading left first, because I need to show you a Cathedral hidden in plain sight and some very special toilets. Intrigued? Walk this way...
If you’re terrified of being stopped by the architecture police and forced to explain the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco - because you’ve never really got the hang of it even after passing your Flog It! distance learning course - I’d like you to follow me outside...
Now turn left and cross the road. If there’s a finer stretch of actual road surface in Liverpool, I’ve yet to amble across it. The jaunty zebra-striped cobbles lead straight into the foyer of the Philharmonic Hall.
With its decidedly Deco-inspired geometric lines, long, slender windows and cool curves, it resembles a beached ship from the Golden Age of cruise liners, or one of those gorgeous white pavilions that line the coast of once-glamorous seaside resorts. Only this one’s finished in Bambi-coloured bricks and possibly comes complete with Malcolm Gladwell reading from his new book.
It’s all very lovely, and it just gets better inside.
The concert hall’s the work of one of Liverpool’s finest - Herbert James Rowse (with an award-winning 2015 reboot by Caruso St John). Do go in, even if you’re not going to see the orchestra at work (but if you can, you must). The mezzanine bar, with its gilded reliefs and statues makes us weep for more civilised times. Thankfully, on Hope Street, they never really went away.
As you leave, turn right and cross over Myrtle Street at the lights. Now take a look across the road to your left and you’ll see the riotous turrets and flourishes of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms.
Built as the 19th century turned into the 20th, its flamboyantly gilded gates couldn’t be more Art Nouveau if they tried. And, trust me, they really do.
Balconies, mullioned windows fit for Rapunzel and copper onion domes give the Dining Rooms the look of some demented Town Hall from a mid-European fairy tale. In short, it’s spellbinding. Don’t fret, I’m coming back that way. We can take a closer look later.
Continue on down Hope Street past the Casa - its bar and venue still as passionate about supporting grassroots causes as it was when emerged as a space to support the dockers in their prolonged strike of the 90s.
If you’re peckish, trundle a little further along to the Pen Factory, with its sunny courtyard garden, brilliant local beers and small plates supposedly for sharing, but get your hands off my hummus. Thanks. And yes, this place used to house a fountain pen company: the Lang Pen Co. Each silver pen emblazoned with the slogan: ‘Faultless. Liverpool.’
Resurgent after a rebuild five years ago, the Everyman next door remains, as it always has been, Liverpool’s hot house for emerging theatrical talent. The theatre scooped the Stirling Prize (think of it as the BAFTAs for buildings), and houses three bars, two restaurants, a huge rehearsal space, costume department, 100 scousers etched into metal and, oh yes, a huge ‘thrust’ style theatre within. The iconic red neon ‘Everyman’ sign uses a font created especially for the theatre. It’s called Merseyside Neon. What else? I had a walk-on part in Twelfth Night here in 1982, but somehow they’ve failed to immortalise me in aluminium. I hold no grudges. But I don’t forget.
Alongside the Everyman is the Medical Institution. Its curved, Greek-columned exterior cloaks one of the oldest medical libraries in the land: prescribing its Hippocratic wisdom since 1779. Just don’t pop in to get that rash checked out. The building sits on the site of the old Bowling Green inn, the birthplace of one of the city’s greatest sons, scientist and abolitionist William Roscoe.
Technically, Hope Street ends here. But spiritually, the street is bookended by the city’s two cathedrals. And they’re as different as Art Nouveau and Art Deco (an architectural observation that’s not lost on you now. See how staying at this hotel is a proper education?)
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King is - faith or no faith - a space to make your heart soar and your spirits sing. It might make your legs shake too, after climbing its heavenly stairway.
Sir Frederick Gibberd's spirited, almost Latin-American looking 'Cathedral for a New World' sits above a crypt designed by Edwin Lutyens for a far grander scheme, scuppered when funds ran out after the Second World War.
Light from the cathedral's 360 degree stained-glass lantern (the largest area of coloured glass in Europe) floods the interior with colour as the sun moves around the structure's 'crown of thorns' spire. But head down into the half-lit subterranean world of the Crypt to catch a glimpse of what might have been: a building to rival St Peter’s in Rome. To many, this secret spiritual space is Liverpool’s third Cathedral. It’ll blow your socks off.
Time your visit right and you might even stumble upon one of the crypt’s beer or whisky festivals. That’s what I call divine intervention.
Let’s walk home on the other side of Hope Street. No, let’s sashay...
Were you, like me, born to dance? If so, you’ll want to shimmy into the Merseyside Dance Initiative. The good people here don’t expect you to have mastered the merengue before popping in. Instead, they hold weekly dance classes, Tai Chi and yoga sessions for everyone. Could we tempt you to brush up your downward dog if we promised to look the other way?
I’m heading back via that enchanted fairy tale pub, the Philharmonic. Inside, a series of wood panelled snugs, stucco ceilings and stained lights come on like some Victoriana fever dream. And that’s before you’ve seen the urinals. These are Grade-1 listed toilets, inside a Grade-2 listed building. And, yes, ladies, you’re invited to take a look. Just let me, you know, get out of the way first.
Hop over Hardman Street for a fantastic flat white at 92 Degrees (they ‘small batch’ roast their own beans. Guess what temperature they use?), and you’re done. Half of Hope Street’s secrets have been revealed to you. I’m going for a little lie down before we tackle part two.