While the Jetsons-meets-Blade Runner towers continue to vie for a place in this compact skyline of Shanghai, there’s a side to the city that is quietly but ever so persistently rediscovering its former refined glory.
The dressing room of the Deluxe River Suite has a "secret closet."
Such is the case with the grand launch of the Peace Hotel (www.fairmont.com/peacehotel; 011-8621-6321-6888, 866-940-4914) last month and The Peninsula Shanghai (www.peninsula.com; 011-011-8621-2327-2888, 866-382-8388), which opened in March.
The Peace Hotel, now a Fairmont, perhaps ignited the heydays of Shanghai when it opened as the Cathay Hotel on the Bund in 1929 as home and hotel to one of the Orient’s most notorious money moguls, Victor Sassoon. A relentless world war, an unforgiving revolution and a $73 million redo later, the hotel’s spanking new, yet historical rooms are back in business (Charlie Chaplin stayed here and Noel Coward wrote Private Lives here) for rates starting at around $350 a night.
Similarly, The Peninsula Shanghai has its roots in the turn of the last century when the hotel’s former iteration, The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, managed the Astor House on the Bund, the finest hotel in the city for many years. Peninsula’s return to Shanghai after almost 60 years with its ninth and newest property has been in the form of a new-build low-rise just steps away from the Astor and grounds of the former British consulate, blending 21st-century know-how into a grand Art Deco-inspired space.
On a recent stay at The Peninsula Shanghai, I noted how some traditions never die. The property sent its trademark Rolls (OK, not the 1934 Phantom II, but you can request it!) to Shanghai Pudong International Airport to pick me up and drive the 40-odd minutes to the hotel. Post check-in, a front-desk staff member showed me to my suite and familiarized me with all of the features.
International calls? No problem. In fact, free through the property’s hotel-wide VOIP system. Fax, Wi-Fi, those odd paperclips and staplers, again, all provided.
The view from the room, a corner suite, extended from the Huang Po River to the late 19th/early 20th-century living museum buildings along the Bund and the futuristic skyline of Pudong. A telescope at the window promised views of the Shanghai Expo in Pudong if I peered hard enough.
The 235-room boutique hotel proved to be an oeuvre in Art Deco sensibilities expressed through hues of celadon, cerulean blue, ivory and sand amid the overstuffed furnishings, marble bathrooms and magnificent artwork.
I was in the Deluxe River Suite, one of 14 guest room options and eight suite possibilities. I had a corner window with a dining table, a stocked minibar and Nespresso machine. The CD, DVD players and iPod docking station were at the ready if I really wanted to rock out about this place. But I chose the comforts of the bedroom and the 46-inch plasma TV for entertainment. Next to the cushiony bed was “the box”: a dufus-proof console on the night table that controlled everything—room temperature, window coverings, alarm, music, TV, door, even phone—to ensure I barely had to move a finger.
The L-shaped dressing room and wardrobe won a few more points with its “secret closet.” This otherwise unnoticeable valet closet was the place to put shoes, laundry and dry cleaning, all done and returned in a matter of hours after the flip of the pickup switch over the special outside door. But nothing could have prepared me for the nail dryer (a nail dryer!) built into the vanity table or how the bathroom converts to a spa with meditation music, low lights and hands-free everything with the push of a button. With the lights on again, I could see it had two separate sink areas, multiple shower nozzles, a hands-free phone, TV, separate commode and bathtub.
Dining Peninsula-style comes with über-refined as well as just refined options. On the high note is Yi Long Court, an adventure in Cantonese cuisine overseen by Michelin Star chef Tang Chi Keung. Celebrated chef Arnaud Berthelier provides the modern European approach to dining at Sir Elly’s Restaurant.
Both restaurants offer special salons immersed in decor for private feasts. For casual dining, The Lobby sets the stage with all-day fare, mostly Western choices, and, of course, daily afternoon tea à la Peninsula. The chamber orchestra occasionally launches into popular tunes for the regularly held tea dances. Breakfasts at The Lobby can be particularly enjoyable with a buffet presenting everything from pancakes and brioche to lox and bagels.
“The hotel is in a perfect place, especially in the mornings when you look out on the grounds of the old British consulate next door,” says General Manager Paul Tchen. “The area is just crawling with history and then there is The Peninsula, modern and new but fitting in perfectly with what has come before and what has been going on along the Bund in its recent revitalization.”
Cocktails at The Peninsula call for the Compass Bar and its open-air views of the city and the Huang Po River. Salon de Ning lets in the club scene as a glam bar decked out like a Disneyland set in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride.
An upscale shopping corridor has Chanel, Prada, Shanghai Tang and others lined up, while a spa by ESPA specializes in Oriental, Ayurvedic and European treatment techniques. True to The Peninsula design is the 80-foot indoor crystalline swimming pool illuminated by skylights and accented by palms.
The property lies at the upper end of the Bund area, an easy hop to the Huang Po river-walk or the pedestrian promenades and malls on Nanjing Road. But an afternoon’s amble down the Bund is a rare lesson in history, indeed—from the glorious Astor, just a block away that is now a shabby ghost of its past, to the former bank buildings along the Bund, now restored and housing many of the world’s finest luxury flagship boutiques.
The Deluxe River Suite is one of the 14 guest room options at The Peninsula.