Manchester. A city known for its firsts. Ernest Rutherford discovered how to split the atom there in 1919; the TUC held its first meeting in a local pub; the first Marks & Spencer store opened in the city; and it was also home to the first modern political movement, in the form of the Anti-Corn Law League. All of which brings us rather smoothly to Manchester's latest first: the Radisson Edwardian Manchester hotel.
The Radisson Edwardian Manchester is the first property outside London for privately owned hotel company Radisson Edwardian and - if you're a Mancunian - the first five-star hotel in the city (Manchester is also home to the Rocco Forte group's Lowry hotel, but locals insist it's in Salford, not Manchester).
The hotel, which opened last month, had to be something special. Radisson Edwardian has recently made massive changes in the style of its hotels, embarking on a major £150m renovation of its properties over the past five years. And the group also had the pressure of opening a hotel in one of Manchester's most historic buildings, the Free Trade Hall, on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and various Anti-Corn Law League celebrations, and itself host to a galaxy of superstars from the worlds of literature, politics and music.
But, with head of design Michael Attenborough and interior designers Scott Brownrigg on board, the hotel has successfully managed to blend the historic with Radisson Edwardian's 21st-century urban style.
Attenborough says he wanted the design of the hotel to reflect the history and grandeur of the old Free Trade Hall and Radisson Edwardian's own design ethos of luxury without pretension.
Radisson Edwardian first set its sights on the Free Trade Hall 12 years ago. After several years of trying to get planning permission, the group was finally able to start planning what the hotel would look like six years ago. And, £50m later, it has opened a modern, sophisticated hotel which has successfully managed to contemporise its historic beginnings.
The front of the Radisson Edwardian Manchester is the original fa‡ade of the Free Trade Hall. The windows of the original building have had to be replaced, but even they are carbon copies of the originals. Stepping inside the hotel, however, you enter the modern world; but with touches from the colourful history of the Free Trade Hall all over the hotel, the transition into the 21st century is a smooth one.
The Free Trade Hall part of the hotel houses reception, the opulent Opus One restaurant and the Hall‚ function room. The reception area fuses the modern with the old through its ornate classical columns and black lacquer finish on all the joinery. An original painting of the Peterloo Massacre hangs above the reception desk, paying homage to the 15 people who died in the protest.
Directly behind reception is the Opus One restaurant, one of two restaurants in the hotel. Opus One is indulgence on a grand scale. The red, black and gold restaurant runs the risk of being horribly tacky and a little OTT, but Attenborough has managed to create an opulent, grand space you really want to be seen in.
The crimson chandeliers, antique gold wall coverings, black-lacquered wood and faux crocodile skin-covered bespoke chairs all work together to create a New York-style bar-restaurant with a touch of the Orient.
And, as being seen is important to Mancunians, the restaurant has a colonnade where diners can sit enclosed in glass and watch the world - or Manchester, at least - go by, and be watched in return.
Creating the perfect see-and-be-seen eating area wasn't without its issues, though, says Attenborough. Because the area utilises the outside of the Free Trade Hall, he wasn't able to attach anything to the original architecture, making lighting the area difficult. To get around this problem, he added a glass floor with underground lighting.
General manager Stephen Miles is confident that Opus One, and the Alto restaurant in the new part of the hotel, will be huge successes. "Forget anything you have ever thought about hotel dining," he says. "These are going to be two of the best places to eat in Manchester."
He adds: "We expect Opus One to become one of the key destination eating places in Manchester. We think people will come out of curiosity to see what we have done with this iconic building, and again and again because of the quality of the food and service we will offer."
He is also confident that the Hall‚ conference hall, situated above Opus One, will become one of the most popular conference spaces in the city. The Hall‚, named after Britain's longest-established professional symphony orchestra, which was based at the Free Trade Hall, is the only major conference space in Manchester that offers natural daylight.
"Obviously, this makes a fantastic difference to the overall feel of any conference," says Miles.
The new Old meets new at the Radisson Edwardian via a stunning glass atrium. Guests dropped off at the hotel enter through the atrium and are greeted by a massive Buddha head imported from Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is sure to leave a lasting impression.
As in all Radisson Edwardian hotels, artwork in the Manchester property is original, and Attenborough uses it to marry past and present throughout the hotel. The reception area, for example, features several commemorative stone panels from the original Free Trade Hall set into the walls, while in the bedrooms, prints of the old and new of Manchester by National Geographic photographer Bunshri Chandaria adorn the walls.
The Alto restaurant, 20 meeting rooms and the hotel's 263 bedrooms are all situated in a newly constructed 14-storey building, connected to the Free Trade Hall via the atrium.
Bedrooms reflect Radisson Edwardian's now-classic style of clean and sharp lines, with Bang & Olufsen entertainment systems as standard. But the property's 20 Garden Suites offer guests a little extra. The suites, situated on top of the old Free Trade Hall, all have separate dining areas and private balconies. And, as Manchester isn't known for its spectacular weather, balconies are closed in but allow fresh air to circulate. Guests can even feel a gentle breeze if it's a little windy outside.
With the Radisson Edwardian Manchester now open to the public, the group has turned its attention back to London. The next job is a massive £40m renovation of the May Fair hotel, which it bought from InterContinental Hotels Group in August 2003 for £115m. And maybe, when that job is complete, the group will look towards another major UK city.