Monday, 30th October 2017

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Taj Bengal turns 30 this October

30 things — a mix of old and new — that make the Alipore hotel special

By Anannya Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 24.09.19, 6:47 PM
  • Updated 24.09.19, 6:47 PM
  • 7 mins read
  •  
Taj Bengal Telegraph file picture

1 The hotel took around five years to build and opened doors on October 10, 1989 and was inaugurated by Jyoti Basu, the then chief minister of Bengal.

2 The total number of keys are 229, including 200 rooms and 29 suites.

3 The theme that the hotel was built around is ‘Music and Celebrations’, as depicted by the terracotta figurines in the lobby and was originally designed by renowned American architect Bob Fox, while Elizabeth Kerkar did the interiors of the property. The lobby was recently redone as a part of the property’s latest renovation drive with the entire carpeting and all the furniture changed.

4 The hotel sits on four acres of land and 1,72,956sq ft of floor space.

5 The average footfall is around 2,500 people on a fully-occupied day.

6 The vertical garden on the T-shaped facade is one of the chief distinguishing factors of the Belvedere Road hotel and it runs on the interior facade of the hotel too, ensuring that every room has a view of its own patch of green.

7 The interior of the hotel is also T-shaped with the figurines of 10 terracotta musicians in conjuction with the centrally located painting of musicians, right opposite the elevators.

8 Keeping in line with the theme of celebration in the lobby, its acoustics have been designed in a way to facilitate having a concert. To keep the theme of celebrations intact, there is a quartet playing western classical music every evening in the lobby from 7pm to 9pm and a flautist playing from 7am to 9am. The puppets used as decor elements in the lobby are also part of this same celebratory theme. The gurgling water of the fountain adds to the sound in the lobby and was conceived to complement the feel of the outdoors and nature inside the atrium.

9 Over the years, Taj Bengal has supported 624 artists by showcasing their works in The Promenade Lounge. The hotel also houses works of artists from Bengal such as Sakti Burman, Paritosh Sen and Asit Haldar.

10 Since the hotel opened doors in 1989, it has seen two rounds of renovations so far.

11 The structure of the hotel has never been expanded in height or area as it was kept at five floors in order to not restrict the path of migratory birds flying to the Alipore zoo, while the southern wall of the hotel is shared by the hospital that treats the zoo animals.

12 The latest renovation drive was undertaken in 2017 and took about 12 months (in phases) to complete, which included facelifts and sprucing up of the entire property, including completely renovating 100 rooms.

13 Cal27 was the first F&B offering as a part of this renovation and was a replacement for The Hub. A French designer led the renovation and drew inspirations from places such as the Marble Palace, Sovabazar Rajbari and Victoria Memorial.

14 The ceiling of the atrium was made to replicate the sky and therefore has 11,000sq ft of polycarbonate sheets, forming the skylight, which was replaced this year as a part of the renovation drive. The palm trees in the lobby were brought in to add to the feel of the outdoors. The total height of the atrium is 30 metres.

15 Sonargaon opened doors in 1989 and as a part of the recent renovations, saw a soft-refurbishment, coupled with the introduction of a curated tasting menu. The interiors and artefacts that make up the decor of the outlet has remained untouched since it opened.

Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh at Taj Bengal
Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh at Taj Bengal Telegraph file picture

16 Souk, the Middle Eastern restaurant at the property, turned 10 earlier this year and was originally conceived to replicate the feel of a Middle Eastern souk or bazaar, complete with its azure tiles and decor elements likened to the waves of the sea.

17 Chinoiserie also saw a soft-refurbishment that took 15 days to finish with its furniture and colour palette seeing a change, along with a new masterchef taking over. It still remains the only dedicated fine-dine Chinese restaurant housed in a five-star hotel in the city.

18 The Junction now has a 24-seater al fresco area and dedicated DJ nights every Friday and Saturday, along with an extension of up to 1am.

19 Taj Bengal regularly hosts culinary pop-ups by bringing the offerings of fine-dining restaurants from outside the city and has already hosted four food pop-ups so far this year, including bringing Blue Ginger (Taj West End, Bangalore) and Orient Express (Taj Palace, New Delhi) to Calcutta. They also regularly host a number of chefs of international repute, including the chefs to the heads of states who are a part of Club des Chefs des Chefs — an exclusive international gastronomic association.

20 The Chambers, housed on the fifth floor of the star hotel, is an exclusive members-only club for Taj patrons and will see the introduction of a global Chambers programme with enhanced benefits soon, along with a new menu in The Chambers dining room.

21 The banqueting space has also seen a round of renovations and the addition of 6,500sq ft with the Portico Plus.

22 La Patisserie and Deli is sprucing up for a new look and feel, too, with a range of new delish offerings coming soon.

23 As a nod to the heritage and culture of Bengal, guests can enjoy the shondhe aroti with some cutting chai and jhal muri at The Promenade Lounge every evening.

24 The property has over 600 people working 24 hours.

25 The hotel has had 10 general managers so far.

26 The flower arrangements use seasonal flora sourced from different parts of India, Bangkok and South Africa, with the central arrangement in the lobby setting the mood for the whole week in the whole hotel.

27 Taj Khazana (the in-house retail store) outlet at Taj Bengal was only the second outlet in the entire country when it opened in 1989.

28 Signature dishes across the F&B outlets of the hotel include the Fluffy Omelette for breakfast at Cal27, the Kakori kebabs at Sonargaon, the Peking Duck (first fine-dining restaurant to start serving this in the city) at Chinoiserie and the Rose Petal Ice Cream in Souk.

29 Around 100kg of flour is used every day to make breads for the entire hotel, while around 400 cups of tea and coffee are served daily in the coffee shop, lounge and the poolside.

30 Apart from private events, the property regularly hosts a mix of events such as designer pop-ups, charitable dinners and events organised by various ladies’ groups in the cities. In the last one year, the hotel has hosted over 1,000 events, including some of the biggest weddings in the city. 

General Manager Manish Gupta on 30 years of Taj Bengal 

Congratulations on Taj Bengal turning 30. What are some of the key areas that have changed and remained the same since?

Thirty years is a long time and this property has witnessed some great stuff and great events but it’s always good to refresh it with time and that’s what we have been doing in the last couple of years. The significance of these 30 years is also to go back and see where we started from, where we are and how to move forward. It’s not only important to be the best in Calcutta but we need to be relevant and be the best in the country. For that, we need to constantly upgrade, introduce new themes and concepts and make our product (in terms of rooms and suites) very functional and comfortable, which people can relate to and that is our endeavour.

Take us through the property’s renovation drive...

I have always called this hotel a very “complete” hotel. This is the way a five-star hotel was planned and envisaged in the olden days — whether the ratio of suites to rooms, whether it’s the kind of F&B (food and beverage) outlets, the variety, the location or whether it’s the club like The Chambers, the huge swimming pool, spa and salon facilities. So all of these things have been planned such that everything oozes a lot of functionality and luxury. So, luckily for us, all these things and especially our F&B have also worked very well. And as our figures also tell us that despite the various economic cycles we have seen, the F&B and the growth in the restaurants have gone from strength to strength.

Having said that, everything needs a little bit of upliftment and refreshment so what we undertook last year is the one-by-one refreshment of our outlets. So two years ago, we renovated and re-launched our very famous coffee shop called The Hub as Cal27. Followed by that, we did a soft-refurbishment of Chinoiserie... we thought that we must refresh it in terms of decor and also got a new Chinese masterchef to completely redo the menu. Moving on to Souk, we have again redone our menus and small changes in the decor. For Sonargaon, we introduced a six-course chef’s menu, which is a pre-plated modern concept. Of course the overall concept of the restaurant is still the same but there’s also a segment of the crowd that looks at a little bit more of a contemporary way of presenting the cuisine.

So these are small things that we have started everywhere and will keep doing them so that even a regular guest has little surprises in store. Moving on to The Junction, we introduced guest DJ nights on the weekends, which has received an overwhelming response. The other area that we have really focused on is The Chambers and we just launched the global Chambers programme and are opening more of these, including in London and Bangalore.

Taj Bengal has always been a great hub for a lot of weddings and we are a kind of hotel that’s more classic than contemporary, so going on with the same look and feel, we have enhanced the product in our Crystal ballroom. Most importantly, we have worked on our menus, which have always been our strength. The curation is international, while the execution is personalised. Seventy per cent of Cal27’s menu has also changed recently. What started with the coffee shop and the rooms ends with La Patisserie and it will have a new look, feel and a top-class menu.

Manish Gupta, general manager, Taj Bengal, and area director east.
Manish Gupta, general manager, Taj Bengal, and area director east. Picture: B. Halder

As the general manager, what do you think is the legacy of Taj Bengal?

If I have to really talk about the legacy and what we have earned in the last 30 years, it’s our relationships, reputation, the love and affection of the people in the city. As an outsider when I meet people, you won’t believe the kind of warmth I receive. Even when they’re not happy about something, the way they put it across to us as well-wishers and with genuine affection and interest in us, their feeling that this is “their” hotel, is unparalleled. I have come across so many people who tell me that they got married here, somebody tells me that they got their daughter married here and how in their college days they would have something in the coffee shop late at night. This is their affection and love and I think that is the legacy.

So what’s in store for the anniversary celebrations?

The celebrations are all about reminding everybody that we continue to feel excited and honoured to serve the city. So just as a small gesture, we will be launching a special day’s discount to mark the anniversary — a 30 per cent discount on whatever we offer on that day to commemorate our anniversary on October 10. We are also planning to invite our longstanding patrons for a gala dinner on one of those days, with Diageo as our pouring partner.