At the height of Shanghai's hedonistic heyday in the 1930s, the Bund was the city's most fashionable address and the Cathay Hotel its glamorous epicenter. Opened in 1929 by real estate magnate Victor Sassoon, the Cathay rivaled the finest Asian hotels like the Peninsula in Hong Kong and Raffles in Singapore; it attracted celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Noël Coward, who wrote Private Lives there in four days while recovering from the flu. Then came decline: after the revolution, the communists requisitioned the property as office space for several years, before renaming it the Peace Hotel in 1956 and using it to accommodate visiting party apparatchiks from the Soviet bloc. After China's economic liberalization, it became a midrange tourist hotel, attracting foreign travelers interested in a slice of Shanghai's past.
That bygone era is now being much more vividly evoked, however. After a three-year renovation, the hotel reopened under new management last summer. Many of the public areas of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, as it's now called, replicate the Sassoon original. In the lobby, the designers removed a false ceiling to reveal a breathtaking 15-m atrium with a copper and yellow-tinted-glass skylight. Original Art Deco flourishes, such as the copper chandeliers and ornate grillwork and moldings, have been refurbished. The Dragon Phoenix Restaurant, which serves both local and Cantonese fare, was returned to its over-the-top former glory, complete with deep red columns, sea-foam-blue walls and golden carvings in the coffered ceiling. And in the ballroom once the scene of Sassoon's legendary costume parties the hotel has refinished the sprung timber dance floor to give bounce to a new generation of fox-trotters.
The 270 guestrooms have also received a head-to-toe makeover, blending period-inspired furnishings and fittings with modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, Bose sound systems and Illy espresso machines. Bathrooms feature claw-foot tubs, Noir St. Laurent floors and Miller Harris bath products. If he were able to return, Coward would no doubt be inspired to produce another great work and this time linger more than a mere four days.
Rates start at $345 for a standard room and $1,050 for a suite. For more information, go to fairmont.com/peacehotel.
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