Shanghai’s iconic Fairmont Peace Hotel began life in 1929 as Sassoon House, named after its owner Sir Victor Sassoon, a British real estate mogul. While Mr. Sassoon lived in the 10th floor penthouse, the rest of the building was dominated by the prestigious Cathay Hotel. The Chinese government took over the building (and all the neighboring foreign-owned buildings along the Bund) after the 1949 revolution and reopened it as the Peace Hotel in 1956.
The Fairmont recently underwent a three-year restoration which preserved many of the Art Deco features from the 1930s. An atrium off the lobby is aglow from the original yellow stained glass and surrounded by silver carvings of old Shanghai. Up a few floors, guests can walk down a hallway lined with antique Lalique glass panels and party the night away in a luxurious banquette hall with seating for 300.
The former Cathay Hotel was host to many famous people, such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin. George Marshall stayed at the Cathay in 1945 when he was U.S. Secretary of State and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a guest of the newly opened Peace Hotel in 1960. To woo a prestigious international clientele, Victor Sassoon had created nine country-specific suites which are still available today. We got to tour the Japanese Suite – room 620. Decorated in traditional Japanese motifs, the dining room features tatami mat flooring while the queen-sized bed is actually a luxury futon. The large bathroom has been fully modernized and boasts incredible views of the Bund. A night in this suite can be yours for just 10,000 RMB, or roughly 1,600 USD.
Another famous area of the hotel belongs to the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant. The beautiful room, with a ceiling intricately carved and painted with phoenixes and dragons, was almost destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s for representing old ideas. Thankfully, the quick-thinking staff covered the offending designs with white sheets before the guards arrived. Today guests can dine on classic Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine while surrounded by old-world elegance.
The Peace Hotel is renowned for its Old Jazz Band made up of septuagenarian musicians who have been playing at the Jazz Bar for decades. I’ve heard that a few of the old-timers played at the Cathay Hotel in the 1930s! The dark and intimate bar serves classic cocktails from the ’20s and ’30s along with a collection of fine cigars.
One of the highlights of the tour was being granted access to the private terrace on the eighth floor. Looking up, we got a close-up look at the green copper pyramid atop the building – once housing Victor Sassoon’s private dining room and today the location of the Presidential Suite. Looking out, we had a birds-eye view of the Bund and the ultra-modern skyscrapers of Pudong.