The Merchant House, Bahrain
THE HOTEL: This bijou boutique hotel in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, is an antidote to the glistening skyscrapers of competitor chains, reflecting a new vision for the Kingdom’s cultured tourism. Curated with art, books and colour, The Merchant House is becoming a place of choice for the discerning business traveller. The 46-suite hotel is situated right next door to Bab Al-Bahrain, the gate which leads to the vibrant Manama Souk. It is also in the heart of the financial district, an area of reclamation from the sea and continued regeneration.
THE CHECK-IN: A quick transfer from the airport by Maserati Quattroporte makes a good first impression. Smart, courteous staff process check-in just as swiftly, allowing me to catch glimpses of the eclectic and prismatic mix of original art, furniture and décor, neatly sectioned by a series of concrete columns in the lobby. One central column has been spray-painted by Bahraini artist Mustafa Halwachi – think synergy rather than anarchy. The simple, sleek and intimate reception desk is typical of Campbell-Gray hotels.
THE SUITE: Original art and photography – the consistent thread throughout the hotel – catch the eye on first entering the room. You could find yourself sleeping with Warhol, Chagall or Hirst. My corner suite was spacious, designed to lead me from the functional mini-foyer and kitchenette, to the cosy lounge area with smart TV, coffee table tomes by Phaidon and Thames & Hudson, and onto the sumptuous king-size hypno-bed and marble bathroom with rain shower. Room colours are serene except for the statement Josef Frank classically designed armchair, providing an injection of colourful floral fabric.
THE FACILITIES: Two stand-out areas are the rooftop restaurant/bar, Indigo, a warm and welcoming space that spills out onto a large terrace, with 35msq pool plus sundeck at one end – another Campbell-Grey signature feature. Again, Frank’s floral fabrics bring an uplifting summertime feel to the space, together with two potted olive trees and other greenery.
Next to the pool is the PureGray gym. The PureGray Spa offers treatments on another floor. Worth a mention is the menu’s Hamour fish dish which was a clear favourite amongst diners.
The second area is the Mezzanine library, arching around and overlooking the lobby, dominated by Halwachi’s kaleidoscopic column shooting through the ceiling. Around 1,000 books have been carefully curated by Philip Blackwell of the ‘Ultimate Library’ in London. Lavish sofas in racing green and royal blue velvet, plus local handcrafted furniture pieces, entice patrons to spend time perusing the books, over tea or the cardamom-infused Bahraini coffee, brought up from Café Gray. The Mezzanine floor’s small boardroom points to a hotel more suited for business lunches on the rooftop.
THE VERDICT: A unique property in a culturally fascinating destination that Gordon Campbell-Gray has had personal involvement in designing. Whilst the views are limited, The Merchant House is all about the interior, a true canvas for the 80% Bahraini and GCC artists that adorn the walls, mixed amongst some art greats. The location means culture is on the doorstep but connectivity to the rest of the city is easy. Charismatic and friendly staff provide top service.
THE DETAILS: The Merchant House, 150 Government Avenue, Manama 304, Kingdom of Bahrain Tel: (+973) 1667 1000. Rates at The Merchant House start from 119 BHD (approx. £240) per room per night including breakfast. For more information see campbellgrayhotels.com
Reviewed by Ramy Salameh (2019)