The alluring view of the Bund in Shanghai is full of substances, the richness in history and beauty of different architecture all add up to a rather unique skyline. Going back to a century ago, it actually has not changed a significant lot. Among the architecture on the Bund, is the famous Fairmont Peace Hotel (和平飯店), which opened its door on August 1, 1929 as the Cathay Hotel by Sir Victor Sassoon.
British by birth and educated at Harrow School and later at Trinity College in Cambridge, Sir Victor went to Bombay and then Shanghai to learn about the family’s multi-faceted businesses, inheriting the helm of the company in 1924 and establishing his roots in Shanghai in 1931. A true financier, Sir Victor transformed the city, establishing various commercial entities to support rapid development, particularly on the Bund. An entrepreneurial businessman and hotelier from the Sassoon banking family, the most famous and prosperous of Jewish families in 1920s and 1930s Shanghai, Sir Victor was known for his sense of humor and high sense of living, in addition to his epicurean tastes, love of horse racing and hosting of extravagant balls and fabulous parties. The hotel has one of the most original dancing ball room, with a spring floor that you won’t believe the condition has been so amazingly preserved after decades of dancing happening.
We all know the glorious flamboyant days of Shanghai in the 1920s, 1930s, stepping into the hotel feels like being in a time capsule. Regardless how buzzing it is outside on the main road and on the bund, the hotel sets the background and ambience of a chilled luxurious European golden days. It wasn’t until I stayed there myself that I discover how historically important and culturally significant the hotel was, setting the scene of the then Shanghai.
The Cathay Hotel is like a museum of its own, often considered as the greatest achievements of Sir Victor, its art deco design, the British heritage, the introduction of the tradition of European high tea to Shanghai in 1929, accompanied by musical interludes throughout the day, except on Sundays. The Cathay Concert Orchestra under the leadership of Mr J Fedoroff played classical and operatic selections in the lounge. Mr Henry Nathan’s All American Cathay Dance Orchestra upped the beat for the ‘Diner Dansant’ every evening at 8pm.
What makes the hotel unique is also the entrepreneurial spirit of Shanghai at that time and a symbol for hospitality excellence. Sir Victor brought over its first General Manager from the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay; his personal penthouse on the 10th floor, paneled in dark oak under the green copper pyramid tower, has become a signature on the Shanghai skyline.
During my short stay in the Fairmont Peace Hotel earlier this year, I often found myself lost in the hotel, not only it is huge with few entrances, the original ceilings and decoration that is well-kept are too attractive, I often ended up looking up and followed the decoration instead of watching where I should be going. Fortunately, the staff there are so attentive they always noticed and guide me back to the right direction, one even recognised me and greeted me as soon as I step out of the elevator (i was VERY impressed!).
Of course, the hotel now, after such a long period of time has been completely restored and renovated. The Sassoon Presidential Suite and the Nine Nations Suites reflect the 1930s internationalism of Sir Victor Sassoon, are all well-preserved. The Nine Nations Suites, envisioned by Sir Victor, pays homage to the cultural and stylistic influences of nine different nations. The original Chinese, Indian, English and American suites have been preserved from Sassoon’s time, while the French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and German suites have been redesigned, yet in keeping their original concepts. Needless to say, the hotel has hosted countless of international celebrities, royalties, diplomats and VIPs.
My room is one of the 17 one-bedroom suites which had a partial view of the bund and the river. There are also 76 Fairmont rooms, 8 Riverview suites, 115 Deluxe room, 19 Fairmont Gold rooms, 21 Fairmont Gold Grand rooms and 4 Fairmont One-Bedroom Gold rooms, speaking of a proper big hotel! and remember it was already there in 1929…
There are six dining and entertainment venues are where heritage and haute blend to reflect the new spirit of Shanghai in the hotel. The legendary Jazz Bar is the oldest live music venue in Shanghai, where guest have been entertained by a live band (with average age of 82!!!) since the golden era of jazz in the 1930s. It is very popular and hard to get a seat without reservation!
Then there’s the Cathay Room and its ninth-floor terrace where they serve inspired European cuisine and Sunday Brunch; the exotically decorated Dragon Phoenix Chinese restaurant where all ceilings and decoration are original. Refined selections of exquisite tea and coffee, especially the tea dance every Saturday afternoon will tempt you in the Jasmine Lounge; Victor’s, a very nostalgic Art Deco delicatessen offering an international café menu and showcasing the finest handcrafted pastries and artisanal breads. Needless to say, food and services are in line with all world-class luxurious hotels.
Thank you so much for the hospitality, I never truly experience this side of Shanghai until now. If you want to learn more about the unique history of the hotel, you can go to the Peace Gallery (which is their museum) on the mezzanine level or with a guided historic tour, they kept a good collection of antiques and historical photos about the hotel.
FAIRMONT PEACE HOTEL
20 Nanjing Road East, Shanghai
Tel: +86 21 6321 6888