Turning a large vat used for kneading dough into a planter, using a steam-iron as a flower vase, or carving out a private dining hall from a large walk-in oven may seem like a wonderful reuse of old objects or space. But in Kolkata’s Lalit Great Eastern Hotel they evoke memories of another time.
Tucked inside Kolkata’s business district, not far from the state governor’s residence, the Raj Bhavan, the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel has walked a long way indeed through the corridors of history. The iconic Great Eastern Hotel began its journey as a bakery founded by one David Wilson in 1830. He acquired an adjacent building and opened the Wilson’s Hotel in 1840. Wilson gradually expanded the property (even today, the hotel’s formal address is 1, 2, and 3 Old Court House Street) and renamed it as The Auckland Hotel and then as the Great Eastern Hotel Wine & General Purveying Co., which finally got shortened to the Great Eastern Hotel in 1915.
Unfortunately, in the 1970s, the hotel that once famously hosted guests as diverse as Mahatma Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh and Queen Elizabeth II, began to falter. The state government, which acquired it around 1975, could do little to reverse the decay.
It was finally taken over by the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, an enterprise of Bharat Hotels Limited, and reopened in 2013. Balancing the urge to preserve the heritage building and to address the demands of contemporary cutting-edge hospitality, the owners decided to have three wings: the Contemporary Block, the Edwardian Block (1901-10) and the Victorian Block (1837-1901).
To keep the legacy alive, the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel runs a guided Heritage Walk (prior appointment required) through the Edwardian Block. On the walk, you will find how old artefacts such as bread moulds and charcoal-irons have been converted into flower pots. Old German-silver water jugs monogrammed GEH serve as plant holders. Some of the old furniture that could be salvaged were being used as corner pieces across the hotel. An eclectic collection of old statues, tea dispensers, decanters, liquor bottles and other bric-a-brac can be found in the Legacy Lounge and the Tea Lounge.
One of the surprises waiting in store in the Atrium Lobby were two large iron cages, their use left to the visitor’s imagination — probably used during cabaret performances at the Maxim’s, the older hotel’s famous bar and restaurant.
While at the hotel, do not miss the piano, again from Maxim’s, which sits in a corner of the main lobby. Manufactured in Hamburg by MF Rachals & Co., it was restored by Braganza and Co. of Free School Street in Kolkata. It is in perfect playing condition.
The final stop has to be the bakery, from where it all began. The old oven, a fair-sized room, has now been redesigned as a private dining area. In deference to the legacy, a part of the old brick wall has been left exposed. The Bakers Perkins machineries used by the old bakery have been strategically placed as decorative pieces. Copies of old advertisements dating back to October 1840 are displayed on one wall.
With prior appointment and paying a fixed cover charge, anyone can take the guided heritage tour (https://www.thelalit.com/the-lalit-kolkata/offers/heritage-walk/); you need not be a resident of the hotel. The Heritage Walk with high tea at the Tea Lounge is Rs 550 plus taxes, the Heritage Walk with high tea at the Gazebo is Rs 750 plus taxes and the Heritage Walk with Wine, and Cheese & Snacks is Rs 1,250 plus taxes. For more information and bookings, call 9007728074.