The Peninsula Hong Kong at 90...
The hotel has a fleet of Rolls Royce's in its unique 'Peninsula Green'. Photo Peninsula Hotels
A bit of history: affectionately known as the ‘Pen’, The Peninsula is Hong Kong’s oldest and grandest hotel, and this year sees its 90th anniversary. The famous white-suited pageboy’s opened the doors to its first paying guests in 1928 - when immediately it attracted that most colonial of epithets, being hailed as the finest hotel east of Suez.
As well as the colonial upper crust - remember that Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997 - early guests included politicians, tycoons and movie stars, and it quickly became the local elite’s swagger sanctuary of choice.
The Pen in splendid isolation back in the 20s, when visitors made straight for Hong Kong Island rather than Kowloon
Right from the beginning, the history of the Hong Kong and the Pen were intertwined. In the 20’s it was the Pen that hosted the colony’s most glitzy tea dances, in 1941 it lent a room for Hong Kong’s formal surrender to the Japanese, and in the 70’s a fleet of exclusive ‘Peninsula Green’ Roll’s Royce’s arrived to transfer guests to and from the airport in style. Then with pre-handover chutzpah, a 28-story extension was added in 1994.
Afternoon tea in the lobby is a Hong Kong institution. Photos Peninsula Hotels
First impressions: The glass door closed behind me and shushed the city’s cacophony: I’d entered the lobby. I’m a sucker for pukka colonial and this was it. The vast hall contained cream stuccoed columns, lacquered tables and potted ferns, while the air buzzed with conversation and the comforting tinkle of teaspoons on china, and up on the balcony, an enthusiastic quartet were playing ‘Fly me to the Moon’. It felt sumptuous and utterly imperturbable - the sort of place where the band might play Stormy Weather in a raging typhoon.
Away from the grand pedigree of the original building, the design of the new tower echoes the shapes and colours well, and houses a large Romanesque pool and sun terrace, along with a spa and gym, all immaculately maintained.
The rooms are larger than I had expected – even a standard is almost 500 square feet. The décor is classic, but fresh feeling, in a blend of traditional European styles with Orient nods, like the table lamps and wall hangings. The million dollar view of the Hong Kong Skyline found me flopping-on-the-bed in delight as soon as the bellman withdrew.
A suite complete with telescope, and a deluxe room. Photos Peninsula Hotels
How's the service? As well as the quirky ‘Shoe Box’, which enables staff to collect and deliver shoes and papers without opening the door, there are plenty of modern gizmo’s too - a DVD player, free ISDN ports, and bathroom TV, plus a bedside console that closes curtains, displays the outside temperature or activates the ‘do not disturb’ sign.
Amidst all of this richness and technology, I smiled broadly on noticing that sewing kit in the bathroom already had every needle pre-threaded. now I'm no stranger to hotel room fruit bowls, but as I had been upgraded to a suite, this one was a doozy - an explosion of unfamiliar colours and shapes that came with a booklet to explain its exotic contents.
They say that the staff to guest ratio is a whopping 3:1, and while the service is unshowy, there’s always someone on hand when needed. They appear to take a genuine pride in their work, and a third of the Pen’s people have been employed for over ten years.
The Peninsula's pool. Photo Peninsula Hotels
Every exchange I had with the staff was a pleasure; from the effortless check-in, the pool attendant rushing over to assist with a wind-blown umbrella, and the urbane concierge who rose to my sense of humour uncannily. I’d spoken to him in the day in order to try for an impossible table that evening. He succeeded. I’d transformed myself into showroom condition as I headed out for the meal and I went over to thank him. His deliberate double take, and "my don't you scrub up well' was flattering and funny.
And at the end of my stay, the Pen glided me to the airport in a big green Rolls, where Bellman was waiting to escort me to the correct check-in desk. His 'oh hard luck sir' look when I explained I was departing in economy was a picture.
Wining and dining: if you like good food in refined surroundings, then a trip to Hong Kong will probably include a plate full at the Pen. For French gourmet cuisine there’s Gaddi’s; for Chinese, Spring Moon; for Japanese, Imasa; for Mediterranean, The Verandah; and for Swiss, Chesa. Also there’s Afternoon Tea (180) in the Lobby, which is exquisitely presented.
And then there’s Felix; at the top of the tower, this futuristic frolic by Philippe Stark is proof that the Pen is taking frivolity seriously too. The views are breathtaking, framed fantastically by the crisp ‘iceberg’ style of the interior. It’s a stylish yet fun Pacific Rim restaurant/bar/club, with some remarkable urinals in the world. Here gents can enjoy a panoramic pee, facing floor to ceiling glass overlooking the harbour.
The Felix restaurant. Photo Peninsula Hotels
The only disappointment was the American Bar, where I was ushered prior to a meal at Felix. It's a raised platform to the right of the entrance with over-clever curves and submarine-on-silent-running gloom, and on the night I was there far too busy to be comfortable. It's true that there's no view in 'The Bar' off the lobby, but it's traditional and wood-panelled, and while it's not quite the case that Clark Gable invented the Screwdriver here, it is where in 1959 the Gone With the Wind actor asked Johnny Chung (still a member of staff to this day) for a cocktail made from Vodka and fresh orange juice.
Despite all the high-rise contenders, the Pen retains its lustre. The service is slick, the details refined, and the new tower and technology have kept the Pen at the forefront.
90th anniversary celebrations: event are still unfolding, but the Pen plans to reintroduce a couple of afternoon tea dances, on April 15th and September 16th. Combining afternoon tea with a live band and ballroom dancing was all the rage in the Pen's early days.