gladly hops into bed with – er, at – the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, the hotel group's first outpost in Asia
ONCE UPON A time, a hotel room was a place to contain a bed and a pillow to hold your head. But if it’s utterly unnecessary today to have three televisions, two bathrooms and one robot commode in a suite intended pour deux, it’s also irrationally glee-inducing. Gone are the days when hotels simply aimed to be your home from home. Welcome to the age of excess.
The Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund is where good taste and extravagance meet and fall in love. When I arrive at the impressive, neoclassical structure I’m whisked to my room in the new wing, where a butler helpfully escorts me around the room in a flurry of instructions and details as I attempt to suppress my jubilation, my hotel-room high.
Yes, I am that creature about which you’ve heard, that rare breed of travel journalist it’s deemed uncool to be – I am a suite junkie, an in-room addict, a hotel hedonist, the kind of person who checks into a room and plans to sit in it as long as possible at the expense of exploring the city outside. As the heavy wooden door inches slowly shut behind the retreating staff member, I pull out my iPhone camera and start snapping.
It begins with the view, a stunning vista that sweeps the opposite side of the Bund, marred only slightly by large Chinese characters that loom just outside the window, a side effect of Shanghai’s crowded cityscape.
Then there’s the sitting room, which encapsulates a desk, couch, TV, dining table and minibar area, as well as a half-bath for any guests you might entertain. As Shanghai is a magnet for Hong Kong’s business travellers, this could come in handy when you don’t want trespassers in your private area. More interesting than the typical fittings is the two-layered tray laden with all manner and colour of fruit, as well as a thoughtful adjacent bowl of lemon water that’ll stop your apple slices from oxidising. If that’s enough detail to get me excited, imagine what happens when the tray of six cupcakes appears after turn-down…
The bedroom is satisfyingly well equipped, with comforts that range from the typical (bouncy king-sized mattress) to the technological (a TV with DVD and Internet-surfing capabilities) to the tasty (a jar full of home-made chocolate pellets). But as a wise person once said to me, it’s a hotel bathroom that gives away the property’s true value – and this one is an absolute humdinger.
Besides having two doors that connect the bedroom to the walk-in closet and the anteroom, giving the suite a fully circular layout, the expansive bathroom features oodles of gadgetry. The bathtub is the big and spacious kind you’ll want to sink into, and there’s a window that allows you to look into the bedroom. The toilet, which sits behind another glass door, opens upon your approach, as if greeting nature’s call with a wave and invitation to sit. But the real wow feature is the built-in TV, not uncommon in modern hotels, though this one is set behind the sink mirror, appearing only when it’s turned on.
Five hundred words thus spent gushing over the Luxury River Suite in the new wing, and I’m even more bowled over when I find what the hotel calls the heritage rooms, which are similarly well appointed but subscribe to a more quaint attitude towards furnishing: various nooks that seem more apartment-style than the two-large-room format, as well as playful touches such as a canopy bed and claw-foot bathtub.
Over the next two days, I happily discover it would be entirely possible to stay within the hotel’s confines without feeling claustrophobic. Uncovering the history of the hotel’s restoration by HBA would certainly take up a good few hours. In its heyday, in this same spot sat the Shanghai Club, a British gentlemen’s establishment reportedly so selective and exclusive that an Englishman seeking shelter from incoming fire during World War II was turned away pending a membership vote. The Club was famed for its Long Bar, then the longest in Asia, a 34-metre-long drinking station that set the standard for copycats across the world, including one – recreated from old photographs – in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai today.
The decor may be vintage but the men who do the mixing are not. The bartenders extraordinaire do follow a formula, but it’s not for the Shanghai Club classics – instead, they do mean Martinis and signature brand cocktails, including the eponymous Waldorf itself, a heady blend of whisky, vermouth, absinthe and bitters.
At lunch, you can taste the esteemed Waldorf salad in its original incarnation, or the Shanghai variation with crab. Or head to other parts of the hotel – after all, there are five other venues that serve food in the establishment. Pelham’s is the fine-dining venue, open for dinner only and featuring the exuberant concoctions of chef Brian Chan, previously of the Waldorf Astoria New York’s
Peacock Alley. A photographer by training whose parents ran an Americanised Chinese restaurant in California, Chan falls into the category of undiscovered talent, and has only really been able to showcase his brand of East Coast-meets-West Coast American cuisine in his current position. The goods are there – the question is whether the Shanghainese market, often more interested in newfangled dining trends, will accept this as fine cuisine.
Chan’s former home, Peacock Alley, lends its name to a venue here that links the new- and heritage-wing lobbies as a sort of makeshift lounge and coffee spot. Plush purples and warm browns hug the length of the area, which is sectioned into groups of two and four chairs. Also suitable for afternoon gatherings and lady-of-leisure socialising is Salon de Ville, decked out in red drapes and ornate finery. In the afternoons, a harpist sits by the entrance, entrancing patrons with luxurious lullabies while the Red Velvet afternoon tea is served. It features another Waldorf speciality, the redvelvet cupcake (that said, the other pastries and sandwiches are somewhat superior, in my humble opinion).
Of course, there’s an obligatory contemporary Chinese restaurant, Wei Jing Ge, and a basement coffee shop called Grand Brasserie. Under construction is a spa, which will complete the Waldorf’s facilities nicely.
As you’ll have entered the building via the new-wing entrance, where cars are permitted to stop, you should exit via the heritage wing lobby, an impressive bygone space featuring skylights, triumphal arches and vintage elevators with manually closing gated doors and personal elevator operators. The double-doors will lead you to the beautiful Bund-side entrance to the property, where strangely a KFC once stood. Cross the street to the elevated promenade, but instead of looking across the river, cast your glance back towards the hotel.
That’s exactly what I elect to do when granted an hour’s free time in between the multiple dining engagements we have at the hotel. I tuck my book under my arm, dash across the street and take up a position cross-legged on a bench, facing the Waldorf Astoria. Elaborately symmetrical planes creep towards a cloudless sky, sectioned into individual systems – a row of Ionic pillars joined by simply patterned wrought iron, trios of arched windows, twin domes supported by a carved stone support grid of intricate geometry; all lightly touched with sculptural garnishes: simple bas-reliefs, protruding wreaths and ornate friezes. The effect, alongside its equally tasteful Bund neighbours on a sunny day, is breathtaking.
In between pages of prose, I ponder this sight. And I decide that this external beauty is a lucky descendant, a restored elegance mandated by the government that’s enhanced by its juxtaposition with other similar structures alongside it. But the inside is where the Waldorf Astoria shows its true colours, and those colours include a big bathtub and a strangely intelligent toilet, both of which beckon further inspection, a task I’m more than happy to fulfil.
+ Conrad Koh Samui
+ The Kensington Hotel
+ The Pavilions
+ Renaissance Bangkok
+ Mandarin Oriental Paris
+ Waiheke Island
+ Hotel Icon
+ Phnom Penh
+ Buenos Aires
+ Shangri-La Paris
+ Passage to Hong Kong
+ Diving the Sweet Spot
+ The Far Pavilions
+ Hansar Thailand
+ Samui Wind
+ HOTEL DAS CATARATAS
+ The Ritz-Carlton
+ Wolgan Valley
+ LA ISLA BONITA
+ SAIGON FOR MEN
+ ART OF THE CITY
+ Soneva Kiri
+ Langham Hotel
+ The Best of Boston
+ SULTANATE SUBLIME
+ SKYLIGHT VISTA – SEVEN STARS GALLERIA
+ MONGOLIA LUXE
+ The Plaza
+ INSTANT KARMA
+ HEAVEN SCENT, Phuket Pavilions
+ VINO, VIDI, VICI
+ ARABESQUE: A TASTE OF MOROCCO