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The Fairmont Copley Plaza

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31 December 2009

Nearly every US President since William Howard Taft has stayed at the Copley Plaza, so it seems fitting to check into this grand old hotel after a morning spent at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The museum is ultra-modern, sleek and sculptural, and filled with fascinating memorabilia. The hotel is old-school, ornate and opulent, and filled with fascinating memorabilia. The collection of curiosities at the Copley Plaza is partly due to the hotel’s association with various august bodies, including the museum itself and the Boston Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. So within the stately walls there is a Museum of Fine Arts Suite, a John F Kennedy Library and Museum Suite, and a Boston Symphony Orchestra Suite. The latter is all mine for my short stay here, and I’m charmed to find a cd of collected pieces by the orchestra amidst the other comforts dotted about these spacious rooms.

The living room boasts an awful lot of furniture - a sofa, armchairs, a coffee table, another table by a window, occasional tables - but is big enough for this to feel cosy, not cluttered, particularly by lamplight. There are about ten lamps in here, including one with a violin as a base. Pictures of the Symphony Hall and old news clippings about the orchestra line the bedroom walls, but nothing arrests the attention quite as effectively as the flouncy and fabulous gold-dotted curtains in the bathroom. The suite is sited on the Gold Floor of the hotel, a floor with its own check-in, library, lounge with a very welcome fire, honour bar and complimentary cocktail hour canapes.

As it’s still raining outside, these turn out to be very good things indeed. I keep an eye on the weather, hoping that it clears so I can take the hotel’s most famous attraction for a walk. But when I decide to brave the elements, Katie Copley, the resident black Labrador, looks so comfortable and warm, dozing in the lobby, that I haven’t the heart to pull her into the rain with me. Lying there, on her bed on the marble floor, under an extravagantly gilded and frescoed ceiling laden with huge crystal chandeliers, she underlines one of the nicest things about the Copley - the hotel is a grande dame all right, but it is a warm and friendly hostess too, very happy to have a dog, and the children she draws to her like a magnet, hanging about the grand reception area all day long.

I leave by an entrance covered by a red awning, guarded by the huge golden lions next to Katie Copley’s kennel, to take a look at Trinity Church, right next to the hotel, considered by the American Institute of Architects to be in the top ten list of most significant cant buildings in the United States. The nineteenth-century Romanesque interior is as dark as night, making the stained-glass windows jewel-bright in contrast.

The hushed and holy atmosphere is a world away from the glitz and glamour of Copley Place, an upmarket shopping mall a stone’s throw away, where Tiffany and Ferragamo offer an altogether different altar to worship at. The street cafes and boutique shops of Newbury Street are close, and a big temptation, but the whole sidewalk-café culture thing is not working well in the rain, so I head for the clubby comfort of the Copley’s legendary Oak Room, where they worship steak, or so they say.

I find, with the first mouthful, that this is no exaggeration. I have one of the best steaks I’ve ever tasted, in a setting that may be a gentleman’s-club cliché of panelled walls, swags and stags heads, but is as beautifully done as the steak. It’s a gorgeous room, in which they’ve pulled off the tricky feat of combining high style and extreme comfort. Twin Waterford chandeliers sparkle above delighted diners, the buzz of conversation filling the space. The regal surroundings are no less than my perfectly cooked steak, chips and sauteed spinach deserve, and quite in keeping with a hotel as lavishly appointed as this one.

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