It’s no surprise the Peninsula Hong Kong lobby looks like a foyer in St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, or perhaps a wing in Versailles. After all, this is Hong Kong’s most fabled spot for afternoon high tea.
The property is clad in lore. Here in the 1950s, film icon Clark Gable taught Peninsula Barman Johnny Chung how to mix a screwdriver, a drink then unknown in Hong Kong. Chung still performs his magic behind the bar.
The hotel’s Felix Restaurant is a masterpiece designed by Philippe Starck. In addition, there are six other restaurants serving different types of haute cuisine; two bars; a resplendent indoor pool with a sun terrace overlooking the harbor; health club; spa; concierge; business center; designer-brand shopping arcade; 24-hr. room service; babysitting; in-house nurse and even a practice music room dominated by a grand piano.
Peninsula Shanghai If Peninsula Hong Kong represents the collection’s rich origins, its newest Asian property in Shanghai reflects the high life of a century ago when Shanghai was Asia’s undisputed capital of glamour, intrigue, passion and opulence, all wrapped neatly into a deliciously excessive and decadent Chinese roll.
In those days, this was where wealth sprawled in flashy opulence on the banks of the muddy Huangpu River in Gatsby-like magnificence that put other wealthy cities to shame. Books and stories about its glamour abound. Here, champagne flowed as easily as the intrigue that was its mainstay—as spies, adventurers, high-rollers, traders, heavy duty financiers and people on the make made Shanghai their Asian playground of choice.
Sir Lawrence Kadoorie, father of current Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels Ltd. (HSH) chairman Michael Kadoorie, who oversees the Peninsula Hotels operations, once remarked, “There never was and never will be another city like Shanghai between the two world wars—a city of extreme contrasts combining the attributes of both East and West… with its good and its bad, offering a paradise for adventurers.”
This was the Jazz Age at its apex and in keeping with Shanghai’s tradition, Peninsula Hotels last year opened the doors to a 14-story pleasure dome with 235 rooms and suites that just might be the finest hotel in mainland China.
This is something of the return of the prodigal son, as the hotel’s corporate parent, Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels Ltd., originally began operations in Shanghai in 1866 and had expanded into a 4-hotel conglomerate before closing Shanghai operations in 1949 due to political turmoil.
According to corporate sources, Peninsula was offered the opportunity to return to Shanghai a few years ago, but a decision was made by higher-ups that the firm would wait until a prime location was available.
The Chinese government razed the Friendship Department Store (a Communist showcase that ironically was available only to foreigners and well-connected party members) that stood on what originally had been the grounds of the British Consulate, HSH acquired the property, setting the wheels in motion for restoring some of Shanghai’s faded glamour.
It did so in spades.
This is a property that although it has two feet firmly planted in the present, feels like an old-style hotel that pampered the very rich from a bygone era.
“People have forgotten that travel can be glamorous,” says Joseph W. Y. Chong, hotel manager. “We want to bring back that feeling. This hotel retains the elegance of the past, but represents the new generation of the family.”
The sense of luxury and glamour is evident from the minute your chauffeured Rolls-Royce (the hotel has a fleet of BMWs that pick up guests at the airport; Rolls-Royces are sent to fetch guests staying in particular suites) purrs under the Peninsula’s porte-cochere to be greeted by fawning attendants. The exterior is rather understated, giving little hint to the luxury inside its doors.
The place awes at first sight.
It is an Art-Deco masterpiece that, although brand new, feels like one is visiting the mansion of a well-heeled 1930s tycoon. The lobby is a massive marble masterpiece with cathedral ceilings where a string quartet plays the classics. A grand marble staircase dominates the reception area that’s constantly bathed with natural light filtering from skylights that give it a hue designed to highlight superb floral arrangements everywhere.
Exclusive boutiques lie discreetly along a marble, well-lighted corridor where Chanel stands as the hotel’s flagship shop.
The upper floors are elegant, as befits a property of this type where deluxe rooms are the norm. They measure more than 600 sq. ft. with marble-floored foyers, huge dressing rooms, ample closet space, a dressing table with adjustable lighting, shelves for luggage and even a built-in electric nail polish dryer.