CAPE TOWN A year ago, perhaps few people might have imagined that two historic buildings in the Cape Town city center would host international investors, local business leaders and celebrities at the grand opening of a 5-star Taj hotel.
Ratan Tata was joined by RK Krishnakumar, vice chairman of Indian Hotels Company Ltd., and Raymond Bickson, managing director and CEO of Indian Hotels, to officially inaugurate Taj Cape Town at a red-carpet event on Saturday.
“We are delighted to announce our foray into South Africa with Taj Cape Town,” Bickson. “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 & Palaces and city center developers Eurocape spent two years and more than R500 million (US$69 million) restoring the original South African Reserve Bank and Temple Chambers buildings.
Eurocape successfully developed the neighboring Mandela Rhodes Place and is actively pursuing a project to create a multi-billion-rand mixed-use development in the inner city. Taj has experience marketing and operating iconic city center hotels, with a portfolio that includes The Pierre in New York, 51 Buckingham Gate in London and its flagship property, Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.
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 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-center hotels, you have museums, art galleries, top restaurants, live music venues, open-air markets and crafts all right on our doorstep,” says general manager Michael Pownall. “The Taj Cape Town is now a part of the city center experience for Capetonians and international guests.”
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, once the main banking hall. The lobby is dominated by a barrel-vaulted skylight supported by four fluted marble columns, all 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 BoE Building, dating back to 1896. This floor houses the banqueting and meeting rooms and there is much evidence of how heritage has been conserved. The wooden paneling is all original as are the fireplaces in some of the rooms and large sash windows letting in natural light.
The furnishings in the 177 guestrooms combine old-world quality and modern amenities. Comfortable, classic furniture doesn’t preclude high-speed internet and a wireless multi-media hub allowing laptops to be interfaced with the television. Interiors are by renowned Singapore designers James Park and Associates, whose previous work includes another of Taj’s historic city-center hotels, The Pierre. 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 presidential suite on the 17th floor provides a panoramic view of the Mother City and Table Mountain.
Taj’s restaurant repertoire includes Bombay Brasserie, a fine-dining Indian restaurant offering authentic Indian flavors in contemporary dishes. It is modeled on its famous namesake in London, 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. Patrons can opt for the relaxed contemporary interior and 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 Twankey takes it moniker from the statue overlooking the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets.
Another popular feature of the hotel is the Jiva Grande Spa. Exclusive to Taj, Jiva Spas draw on ancient Indian healing wisdom of Ayurveda. Everything that touches the body is natural, from organic cotton to sun-bleached fabrics and oven-baked pottery, bamboo fiber, soy cotton and a range of other ingredients making up 200 customized 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 changing areas.