One of the disadvantages of being stuck in Shanghai is that we haven’t been able to travel as we normally would but the upside of that is that we have saved money especially during the recent half term break (Golden Week). Another of the disadvantages is that I can’t go shopping for new clothes. There is very very little available here in ‘Western’ sizes. I don’t really mind as I have sufficient in my wardrobe to manage but it has had the added benefit of saving me a bit more money. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.
So we decided to treat ourselves to a staycation on The Bund. There are some wonderful hotels here but we went for what is probably the most impressive one. I chose The Peace Hotel for its Art Deco splendor and it’s links to British history. We didn’t go in Golden week as the prices were astronomical but this weekend it had reduced to just ‘expensive’!
The building is a Palmer and Turner Architects design. It was commissioned in the 1920s by the wealthy businessman Victor Sassoon, a British Sephardic Jew of Iraqi descent whose family had made their fortune in India and Hong Kong in the opium trade. Once that business became less profitable Victor decided to move into property and this luxurious building which opened in 1929 was known as the ‘First Mansion in the Far East’ because of its prime location on The Bund.
Altogether Sassoon constructed over 1600 buildings in Shanghai but this was the most magnificent being the first ever skyscraper in the Eastern hemisphere. The roof includes an iconic pyramid shaped tower of copper which is now burnished green. When ships sailed up the Huangpu River they knew that they had arrived in Shanghai when they saw that on the skyline.
The ground floor housed banks and shops and the fourth floor up were the Cathay Hotel. Sassoon lived in a splendid penthouse suite which is still part of the hotel and was recently occupied by Barack Obama.
Being a fan of greyhounds, Sassoon specifically requested pairs of dogs to be incorporated into the design and there are over a hundred throughout the hotel.
The Cathay Hotel was the first in the world to have en suites, telephones in each room and air conditioning throughout. The intricate original covers for the units have been retained.
Famous visitors included Noel Coward who wrote ‘Private Lives’ while staying here and Charlie Chaplin, who was particularly interested in the artistry of Chinese Opera which influenced many of his movie performances.
Sassoon left Shanghai when the Japanese invaded China and returned at the end of the war. The film Empire of the Sun is based on the semi- autobiographical story by J. G. Ballard of a family who were trapped in Shanghai when the Japanese arrived and who were kept in a room in the hotel for FOUR YEARS. Which puts our few months lockdown into perspective really doesn’t it!!! And they didn’t have WiFi!!! How tough was that?!?! I must rewatch that film now.
Sassoon came back to China at the end of the Second World War but in 1949 he left for good when the communist party took over. He handed the building over to the Chinese who used the space as offices. The rooms were occupied for a while by the Gang of Four, the Shanghai leaders who masterminded much of the excesses of the cultural revolution. It is quite ironic that they did this whilst surrounded by such historic luxury.
In 1952 the building was acquired by the Fairmont Group who renamed it The Peace Hotel and it was largely used to house visiting foreign dignitaries.
In 2007 the building underwent an extensive three year renovation and opened its doors in 2010 with completely refurbished and restored guest rooms and public spaces. The result is magnificent and a rare opportunity to step back into a bygone era of stylish elegance.
It was a real treat to stay in one of the 270 deluxe rooms, even if only for one night.
We were surrounded by plethora of fine Art Deco details and we took advantage of the private tour offered free to hotel guests. Being the only non-Chinese staying there we had a guide to ourselves!
There was even a bell boy with pillbox hat. And a concierge whose sole role was to press the button to call the lift!!!! We felt spoiled rotten.
We toured the rooftop terrace and the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant with it’s ornately decorated ceiling.
We finished up in the hotel museum which had a collection of memorabilia.
And a stunning view of The Bund from an angle not often seen.
There are pieces of priceless Lalique glass dotted around the building, the picture below is a broken chandelier now in the museum. The glass dove in the sumptuous central atrium however, is a modern commission.
The hotel has a Scotland Room, an England room and a Dragon restaurant. Afternoon tea here costs approximately £35 per head.
Being British, we were delighted to discover that Sassoon had called the floor at the bottom of the building ‘Ground’. It is the norm here to call this the First Floor which confused me no end when we first arrived. So our room, 615 was actually really six floors up!
The highlight of the evening was a table at the famous Jazz bar (another privilege of being a guest, we did not have a minimum spend). This is one of Shanghai nightlife attractions and tables are hard to get.
As well as cool cocktails this bar is home to the oldest jazz band. By that, I mean that their average age is 80+. The oldest being 88 and the youngest 76. They suffered during the cultural revolution when music was forbidden. Apparently they learned that era was over when they heard Beethoven’s Fifth on the radio one morning! Now they play together in the bar every single night. No breaks. What dedication to their art.
Their music was smooth and the atmosphere was buzzing so sat back with a cocktail or two and soaked it all up.
The hotel was full, full of Chinese tourists. We appeared to be the only non-Chinese guests staying that night. I was delighted that so many want to immerse themselves in what is essentially restored European grandeur.