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London’s Small Hotels : This being our fourth survey in the last decade of London’s little hotels, we’ve make several new discoveries, revisited a number of old haunts and eliminated from out list a couple that’ve grown a trifle seedy.

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Times Travel Editor

It’s star time, chaps.

For legions of travelers the world over, the small hotel is being targeted by vagabonds weary of the outrageous prices posted by the majors. The era of the $200-per-day (and up) hotel room in London’s slick and sophisticated neighborhoods is a numbing reality.

This, of course, follows the trauma of checking in and out of crowded airports that make a riot at a soccer match seem serene by comparison. Particularly at certain European landing pads. After fighting through customs, there follows the joy of the small hotel with its caring staff.

One such hotel displayed its shingle only recently, the Abbey Court, at 20 Pembridge Gardens in London’s Kensington area. A Victorian gem, the stately Abbey Court underwent a 1-million face lift, with the result that guests seeking a tasteful retreat are flocking to its door. Never mind that this is not the slick Mayfair neighborhood. Faded gentility, perhaps, best describes this area just around the corner from the antique stalls of Portobello Road.

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With 22 guest rooms, the Abbey Court provides shelter on a luxurious scale. Indeed, one discovers everything from a four-poster to a prim little lounge displaying a Venetian mirror and a grandfather clock beneath which tea is served each afternoon precisely at 4 o’clock.

The riffraff hasn’t a hope here. Not with the front door secured. One must ring for admittance. The Abbey Court provides countless antiques along with whirlpool baths and heated towel racks--all the luxuries of a deluxe hotel.

The Abbey Court is the delight of Nicholas Crawley, a restive 34-year-old entrepreneur who began restoring country homes in northern Wales at age 23. A perfectionist, he supervises the hanging of every picture, the placing of each antique. With the success of the Abbey Court, which seems more a home than a hotel, Crawley is impatient to get on with restoring other shelters in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Birmingham. This in addition to a number of coaching inns.

As for the Abbey Court, it provides service similar to a goodly number of London’s celebrated hotels. It is homey. It is peaceful. The staff cares. We give it four stars: ****

A few blocks away, the Halcyon at 81 Holland Park is uppermost on our list this year. Set on a tranquil street near Holland Park, the 44-room hotel provides a pleasant glow the moment one reaches the lobby with its fireplaces, priceless grandfather clock and uniformed attendants who respond to one’s every wish.

We include the Halcyon on our list not due to affordable rates but because it is a rare and unusual find among small hotels. The fact of the matter is that it is rather expensive. Indeed, it has lured guests from such grandiose establishments as Claridge’s and the Connought. Without question it is London’s most elegant little hotel, the city’s best-kept secret. Guest rooms display four-poster beds, superb marble baths and original paintings. Room service is provided 24 hours a day.

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For the discerning visitor with pounds to burn, the Halcyon is simply an overwhelming attraction that sets the tone for refinement with its superb French Provincial-style restaurant, its garden patio and sedate bar. No question, this splendid little hotel is deserving of five stars: *****

In the same neighborhood, the Holland Park Hotel at 6 Ladbroke Terrace features room combinations with a choice of brass, four-poster or antique wooden beds. Dating from the 1800s, this former town house with 25 guest rooms faces a pleasant garden and a stand of stately sycamores. Breakfast is delivered to one’s door, the staff is courteous and the neighborhood is peaceful. If one is searching for a bargain in a day of soaring costs, the Holland Park is a sensible choice. Our rating, one star: *

Since our last survey, a number of readers have both praised and complained over a favorite of ours, the little Westland Hotel that faces Kensington Gardens at 154 Bayswater Road. One described it as “tacky.” On the other hand, Melanie Pickett wrote glowingly of a recent visit: “What I value is a clean, comfortable room surrounded by friendly people, and the Westland gets high marks from me on all counts. Price (about $90) for a double room with bath and a full English breakfast seemed reasonable for a centrally located hotel.”

The Westland can best be described as humble. Its proprietors make no pretense of operating a luxury hotel. Rather, they take pride in the fact that guests return year after year because of a courteous staff and reasonable rates. It is popular not because it is chic, with a staff that includes Irish waitress Bridie Shanahan, Jason Janos (maitre d’, bartender, waiter) and Jimmy Glendenning (receptionist, porter, concierge, consultant and bon vivant extraordinaire), who once did a stint at London’s stylish Savoy.

One caution when making a reservation at the Westland: Request a room at the rear. Although double windows have been installed on busy Bayswater Road, traffic noise can be disturbing to the sensitive ear. There is, in addition, the hotel’s annex. Although a trifle gloomy, it is both quiet and less expensive.

To get a fix on the Westland, it rises dead center of Notting Hill Gate and Queensway. Double-decker buses stop at the door and the Queensway underground runs just down the block. We give the Westland three stars: ***

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Next door, the Embassy is more conventional and stylish, although with considerably higher prices. With 193 rooms, it barely rates the “little hotel” status. Its greatest asset is its friendly bellman, Mike Gillis. The cheerful Gillis admits that although London has been his home for years, he’s yet to witness so much as the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. He’s simply been too busy toting bags. The Embassy, three stars: ***

A warm spot remains for Eleven Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea. This small gem off Sloane Square displays no sign. It is known simply by its address. Eleven Cadogan is the wedding together of four town houses with walls of highly polished mahogany, original paintings, antique desks and a peaceful garden in which to relax. With 60 rooms (no two alike), the Victorian retreat is barely 10 minutes from fashionable Knightsbridge.

Eleven Cadogan has played host to the Maharajah of Jaipur as well as untold actors and actresses. And while expensive, it is worth the experience. Shoes left outside the door are polished. There’s a bloke who washes one’s car. Dozens of honeymooners make tracks for this unusual hotel where they sip sherry in front of a fire and dine on full English breakfasts that are served in their rooms. Indeed, Eleven Cadogan rates five stars: *****

And then there is Sixteen Sumner Place. Again, the combination of several Victorian townhouses. From Sixteen Sumner Place it is a short stroll to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Knightsbridge is a few minutes by taxi, as is Hyde Park. Among the celebrities who favor Sixteen Sumner Place is actress Angela Lansbury. Guests repose before a fireplace and stroll through gardens just out the door. Tea and coffee are served throughout the day and an honor bar does a lively business. While on the expensive side, Sixteen Sumner Place is a remarkable little hotel. Our rating, five stars: *****

Across the street, the Alexander is composed of town houses more than a century old. Like the Abbey Court, the Alexander prides itself on privacy, providing guests with keys to unlatch the front door. Here is another hotel with an honor bar as well as valet service, car hire, theater reservations and tour bookings. A three-star dwelling: ***

New on our list this year, The Claverley has been chosen twice by the British Tourist Authority as London’s finest B&B.; Conveniently situated just around the corner from Harrods on a quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac, its 36 rooms feature four-posters and color TVs. We think it worthy of three stars: ***

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We feel The Gore has lost a bit of its former luster. Once a town house belonging to a member of the Marquess of Queensberry’s family, it lacks the intimacy associated with other small hotels in our survey. Commercialism seems to have crept in. Still, the lounge with its fireplace is pleasant enough. Guests sink into deep sofas, imbibe at a tiny bar and take their meals in a dining room that is light and airy. The Gore is a self-appointed three-star hotel. We give it two: **

High points go to the Dorset Square Hotel near Bond Street for its friendly staff and fine antiques. A restored Regency building, the hotel rises in Dorset Square, looks down on lush gardens and is the site of an 18th-Century cricket ground with pictures relating to that most British of British passions. In the basement, a country-style cottage restaurant caters to guests occupying its 39 rooms plus a dozen suites, several of which feature grand pianos. There are working fireplaces and a chauffeured Bentley Continental for trips about the city. Our rating: ****

Abbey Court, 20 Pembridge Gardens, London W2 4DU. Rates from 65.

Halcyon, 81 Holland Park, London W11 3RZ. Rates from 65.

Holland Park Hotel, 6 Ladbroke Terrace, London W11 3PG. Rates from 27 single, 35 double.

Westland Hotel, 154 Bayswater Road, London W2 4HP. Rates from 43 single, 53 double. (Cheaper in the annex.)

Embassy, 150 Bayswater Road, London W2 4RT. Rates: 80 single, 90 double.

Eleven Cadogan Gardens, Sloane Square, London SW3. Rates from 74 single, 104 double.

Sixteen Sumner Place, London SW7 3EG. Rates from 40 single, 95 double.

Alexander, 9 Sumner Place, London SW7. Rates from 65 single, 80 double.

The Claverley, 13-14 Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1PS. Rates from 45 single, 50 double.

The Gore, 189 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5EX. Rates from 65 single, 80 double.

Dorset Square Hotel, 39/40 Dorset Square, London NW1 6QN. Rates: 65 single, 80 double.

Others:

The Delmere Hotel (newly refurbished), 130 Sussex Gardens, London W2 1UB. (The Delmere is just behind Paddington Station.) Rates: 48 single, 58 double. Rating: **

Hazlitts, 6 Frith St., Soho Square, London 1V 5TZ. Rates: 60 single, 70 double. (This is in the heart of London’s theater land.) Two stars: **

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Jenkins Hotel, 45 Cartwright Gardens, London WC1H 9EH. (Clean, quiet, small, charming.) Prices: 21 single, 35 double. Rating: *

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