£30m restoration puts historic hotel back in business

IT HAS played host to some of the most famous names in history, including Charles Dickens and former prime minister Earl Grey, and during its 79-year existence became one of Edinburgh's prime landmarks.

But now, what was known as the Waterloo Tavern and Coffee House, is to accept reservations again, more than 100 years after it closed – this time as the Apex Waterloo Place Hotel.

After more than a century as offices, the now A-listed building has been restored to its original purpose with a 30 million refurbishment.

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Combining some remaining internal features of the original establishment – such as the imposing fireplaces and mirror in the hotel bar and the oak-panelled room incorporated into its conference suite – the 189-room hotel is Apex's fourth in Edinburgh, which boasts more than 100 hotels.

Earl Grey – after whom the tea is named, was presented with the freedom of the city at the hotel amid much pageantry in September 1834, two months after stepping down as prime minister.

The Scotsman described the spectacle: "When the procession halted at the Waterloo Hotel, the scene presented to the eye was the grandest ever witnessed in Edinburgh, not even excepting the king's visit in 1822.

"The North Bridge, Princes Street, the front of the Register Office, Waterloo Bridge and the Calton Hill, with the windows, balconies, and even some of the house tops, presented a dense mass of human beings, charmingly relieved of monotonous effect by the variegated dresses of the fair sex."

The Waterloo was built as a hotel, in contrast to inns such as the White Hart in the Grass market, or the White Horse at the foot of the Canongate, which tended to be taverns offering sometimes rough and ready accommodation.

Angela Vickers, managing director of the Edinburgh- based Apex Group, regards the Waterloo Place venture as "not only another big step forward for the group, it is also of great historical significance for the city".

She said: "This landmark building was the first large-scale hotel in the capital in when it originally opened in 1819."

The Waterloo Hotel closed in 1898. During the ensuing 111-year hiatus, it was used as railway company offices for many years, and later maintained transport connections of a rather different sort when it was used by the then Edinburgh District Council.

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The Apex Hotel Group's contractors, installing what is now Elliot's restaurant, named in memory of the building's architect, had to remove booths once used for paying parking fines.