Detailed review by koshkha
Northampton, United Kingdom
As a student at Oxford University in the late 1980s, the Randolph seemed like the physical embodiment of the class divide that afflicted poor kids like me from state schools surrounded by much wealthier students who took take the affluence and grandeur of the city's finest hotel entirely in their stride. I'd never been in such a grand hotel and the closest thing to a grand building in my home city was the branch of Lloyds Bank. My flat mates' parents would arrive each term and take us out to the Randolph for rather staid Sunday lunch in the spectacular high ceilinged dining room where we'd sit and watch the world cycle by through the tall windows. By contrast my parents would visit bringing a bag full of fish and chips or a Chinese take-away. I can't really say that we enjoyed the Randolph that much more than a takeaway and at least nobody had to stand on ceremony with my folks.
It seems strange from the 2009 perspective that at that time the accountancy and management consulting firms were fighting tooth and claw for Oxford graduates, trying to out-do one another in putting on lavish receptions to try to persuade future graduates to choose their firm ahead of any other. If they wanted to impress, then they hired a ballroom or large conference suite at the Randolph and we'd turn up with no intention of following such a career in the full knowledge that we'd listen to 45 minutes of presentation about accountancy then fill up on free booze and snacks. However, despite representing a world I didn't think I could ever share, I loved the Randolph on sight, with a visceral affection and longing that surpassed even the fanciest of the universities grandest buildings. The Randolph was really something special.
At that time there were no other top notch hotels in the centre of Oxford and visitors had to choose between the glories of the Randolph or a B&B on the Iffley, Cowley, Woodstock or Banbury Roads. The Randolph stood alone in its magnificence but has more recently been joined by arrivistes such as The Bank and the Malmaison, the latter housed in the old Oxford Prison. A few years ago my husband and I wanted to attend a ceramics exhibition in the city and I was lucky enough to get a really outstanding bargain deal at the Randolph. For only a few pounds more than a grotty B&B, I could finally get to stay in my dream hotel.
I love high Victorian architecture and the Randolph is a fine example. It was built in 1864 at a time when no architect could resist sticking just one more bit of ostentatious ornamentation onto every door, window, staircase or ceiling. It stands on a corner plot on St Giles, with the Martyr's Memorial to one side and the awesome Ashmolean Museum directly opposite.
From the moment you step through the rather small and understated entrance with it's canopy to protect you from the rain and the doorman to greet you, you know that you're in for a treat of Victorian design. If you've arrived by car, you could be in for a nightmare though unless you took care to pre-book your parking space at a whopping £25 per 24 hours. The garage is small and you don't get to park yourself as they need to squeeze in as many as possible. The nearest public parking is equally shocking in price but less secure and somehow it doesn't seem right to stay in the best hotel in town and park your car on the city's outskirts in the Park and Ride; it's just not 'appropriate' to take the bus to the Randolph!
We checked in at the reception, admiring the high ceilings and the gorgeous staircase. I'd prepaid so only needed to leave my credit card details in case of extras. I'd booked one of the cheapest rooms which was on an inner corridor so there were no wonderful views but it was extraordinarily quiet so much so that we didn't even wake up until 10.30 in the morning because the inside location and the deep carpets in the corridors meant we got total silence. The room wasn't very big but wasn't cramped either. The furnishings were quietly understated and of good quality. There was a double bed, side tables, a television and tea/coffee tray and an easy chair. The bathroom was small but spotlessly clean and well equipped. I don't think we had a minibar because I remember putting the bottle of champagne we'd brought with us on the windowsill to keep cool whilst we headed out to explore.
We didn't eat in the Randolph on this occasion. Since I'd spent too much on the room (even at a bargain rate) we popped out to eat in local bars and cafes instead, but I can certainly recommend lunch in the restaurant as a real treat. Sunday lunch is a set price and whilst it's not cheap, it's worth a little extra for the grandeur of the setting. There are two bars, one with a lovely open fireplace. There's a spa and a small gym (really small) but generally you don't go to the Randolph to exercise!
For those with special needs, I'd suggest that the Randolph isn't the most accessible of hotels. They do have some wheelchair accessible rooms but the age and design of this grand old hotel wouldn't be compatible with it being really easy to get around. Guests with dogs can take them for a small daily supplement and kids are well catered for with welcome packs, cots and high-chairs and a babysitting service.
In terms of what to see, the Randolph is perfectly placed in the city centre and is on the doorstep of the Ashmolean Museum, really close to the main shopping streets and many of the colleges. You really couldn't pick a better location from which to explore the city.