Historic city centre buildings celebrated in style
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons and Indian Hotels; RK Krishna Kumar, executive director, Tata Sons, and vice chairman, Indian Hotels, and Raymond Bickson, managing director and chief executive officer, Indian Hotels, officially inaugurated the Taj Cape Town at a red carpet event on (August 28, 2010).
Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Bickson said: “We are delighted to announce our foray into South Africa with Taj Cape Town. This is in sync with our strategy to continue our vision of growth in key international destinations. Cape Town is an increasingly popular tourist and business destination and this is yet another step towards establishing a significant presence for brand Taj across the globe with its exemplary combination of product and service.”
Joint venture partners, Tata’s Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and city centre developers — Eurocape — spent two years and over R500 million ($69 million) restoring the original South African Reserve Bank and Temple Chambers buildings.
The Taj Cape Town has been called the city’s oldest new hotel because of the historic buildings it occupies, but its location also sets it apart. Together with the adjacent Mandela Rhodes Place and St George’s Cathedral, it is in the middle of a historic precinct that links St George’s Mall, the Company Gardens, the Slave Lodge and the South African Houses of Parliament, with the Groote Kerk, Grand Parade and the City Hall. It is an area steeped in history and alive with art, culture, cuisine and entertainment.
“Like all great city centre hotels, you have museums, art galleries, top restaurants, live music venues, open-air markets and crafts — all right on the doorstep,” says Michael Pownall, general manager, Taj Cape Town. He emphasises that the Taj Cape Town is very much part of this city centre experience for Capetonians and international guests alike.
Its two entrances, the porte-cochere on Wale Street and the South African Reserve Bank entrance off St George’s Mall, both lead into a magnificent lobby, which was once the main banking hall. The lobby is dominated by a barrel-vaulted skylight, supported by four fluted marble columns, all of which have been meticulously restored. The chandeliers are also originals as are the heavy grills and doors at the pedestrian entrance, still bearing the South African Reserve Bank’s lion heraldry. Even the clock in the banking hall, which first kept the banking hours in 1932 has been polished and repaired. Leading off the lobby are a formal lounge, cocktail bar and cigar bar.
A beautifully crafted wooden staircase leads from the lobby to the first floor of what was the Temple Chambers and later the Board of Executors building, dating back to 1896. This floor houses the banqueting and meeting rooms, and here there is plenty more evidence of how heritage has been conserved. The wooden panelling is all original as are the fireplaces in some of the rooms and large sash windows letting in oodles of natural light.
The furnishings in the 177 guestrooms combine old-world quality with modern amenities. Comfortable, classic furniture doesn’t preclude high-speed internet and a wireless multimedia hub allowing laptops to be interfaced with the television.
All the interiors are by renowned Singaporean designers James Park and Associates, whose previous commissions include another of the Taj’s historic city centre hotels, The Pierre in New York.
Large marble bathrooms are standard and most rooms look out over the city or mountain. The Tower rooms in the new section of the building all have walk-out balconies and the two-bedroom Presidential suite on the 17th floor provides a panoramic view of the Mother City and Table Mountain.
Good news for guests and Capetonians alike is that the Taj’s restaurant repertoire includes the Bombay Brasserie, a fine-dining Indian restaurant offering authentic Indian flavours in contemporary dishes. It is modelled on its famous namesake in London, which is considered one of the top Indian restaurants in the UK.
Looking out over St George’s Mall, Mint is an all-day informal restaurant offering a classic menu featuring meat, seafood and poultry grills. There’s plenty of choice and starters can be ordered as main courses and vice versa. Patrons can opt for the relaxed atmosphere of the contemporary interior, watch their meals being prepared in the show kitchen, book a private function on the mezzanine level or enjoy the sights and sounds of Cape Town at open-air tables under the trees in the mall.
The quaintly named The Twankey takes it moniker from the statue overlooking the corner of Adderley Street and Wale Street. Originally intended as a symbol of the benevolence of the Board of Executors, Capetonians cheekily christened the large, draped female the Widow Twankey after the pantomime character. Today, the relaxed seafood and champagne bar below her celebrates this historic irreverence. It’s an ideal place to meet friends and enjoy a fresh seafood snack and a glass of excellent South African wine. Local bands often provide evening entertainment.
Another feature of the hotel that is proving popular is the Jiva Grande Spa. Exclusive to the Taj Hotels, Jiva Spas draw on the ancient Indian healing wisdom of Ayurveda. Everything that touches the body is completely natural, from organic cotton, sun-bleached fabrics and oven-baked pottery, bamboo fibre, soy cotton and a range of other ingredients making up 200 customised products. The spa is equipped with single- and double-treatment suites, beauty treatment rooms and vitality pools.
Downstairs from the spa is a fully-equipped, modern Techno gym, complete with a heated indoor pool, two saunas and male and female changing areas.
The Taj Cape Town combines the comfort and convenience of a modern luxury hotel, with the splendour and character of yesteryear. It’s a mix of historic and contemporary Cape Town, reflecting the city around it.