The Oberoi’s wounds have been cleaned, cauterized and allowed to heal. On 26/11, 32 people lost their lives in the hotel. The Oberoi hasn’t forgotten, but it has moved on.
It’s been quite an extensive renovation at the flagship Nariman Point property, with walls between rooms knocked down to make super-sized rooms, enhanced security measures (The Oberoi Group’s chief security officer has been trained in Israel in counter-terror measures) and new energy conservation endeavours in place (there’s a waste-heat recovery system and room automation systems to avoid electricity wastage in empty rooms).
In the atrium lobby things are still the same, but not quite. While the layout of the old lobby remains, the elevators open to reveal a brighter expanse. Snow-white Grecian marble has replaced the darker red flooring of old. It is a startling change— the space, with its large windows framing the Arabian Sea, looks larger, brighter and purposefully modern.
Liam Lambert, president of the group, says chairman P.R.S. Oberoi rejected about 70% of the marble imported for the flooring—he wanted only pure white, but allowed a few natural flaws. “We’re sitting on quite a quantity of rejected marble, let me tell you,” laughs Lambert.
The piano is now Chinese lacquer red, and matches the cherry-red cushions that dot the couches, while muted gold accents offset the white. An accent that is a common feature in the lobby as well as in the rooms and suites are white marble tables with intricate blue inlay work from Agra.
Moving on: (clockwise from above) Grecian marble flooring and a muted colour scheme make the atrium brighter; the 51 executive suites measure 800 sq. ft each; and wooden floors offset by small carpets in the suites add a contemporary touch.
In the lobby, a life-sized bronze sculpture by Dimpy Menon shows a man and a woman, facing north and south, their arms unfurled in a gesture that portrays a welcome, as well as freedom.
From 330 rooms, the hotel now has 287, with some having been combined to make larger “Oberoi Executive Suites”. A butler will lead you to the 800 sq. ft spaces which are no longer suffocated by floor-to-floor carpeting and heavy furnishings. Wooden floors are offset by small carpets, while colours such as mustard and sindoor give the room a contemporary Indian touch.
Unlike the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the Oberoi has started its food and beverage options on a clean slate, not retaining the names of its old star restaurants. Only the Italian restaurant Vetro remains unchanged, because, as Lambert says, “One of our heroines managed to close and lock the doors.”
Tiffin and Kandahar, where many lost their lives, have been revamped. Fenix has risen from the remains, like its avian counterpart, in Tiffin’s place. The Oberoi had a competition among the staff to come up with new names for Tiffin and what used to be the Bayview Bar. “We got 260 names just for Tiffin, and the person who came up with Fenix got a substantial reward,” Lambert says.
The new avatar of the popular eatery is still open to the lobby, and is operational through the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Asian, Indian and American cuisines remain on the menu, as does the sushi. The hotel’s new general manager, Steven Kalczynski, thought of a finishing touch for the tables: each one has two tiny goldfish with flame-coloured tails swimming in a clear flower vase. “We have a fish concierge who cares for them,” Kalczynski says.
The most dramatic transformation is the Bayview Bar which has morphed into Eau (besides being French for water, Eau also mimics the O in Oberoi, explains Lambert). The fuddy old man’s club has been replaced by a modern space which will host live jazz musicians. The colour-changing LED lights behind the bar will be in sync with the waitresses’ colour-changing LED serving trays. The old guard might change colour at the thought of that.
Kandahar also gets a new name and face—Ziya has an open kitchen and Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia’s pre-plated Indian menu.
When we visit, employees are touring the space and being treated to an “eat around” at the restaurants, something many of them have never done before. A staffer rolling his trolley of vases with fresh flowers from room to room can’t stop smiling. The front desk, concierge and restaurant staff are all buzzing with purpose. “I know it’s only expenses now, but the money will start coming in soon, I promise,” Kalczynski jokes with the accounts department as they look around Ziya. The renovation has cost the group Rs155-180 crore.
Kalczynski’s right; accounts won’t have to worry for too long. As we leave, a prominent embassy head is on the phone for Kalczynski. Oberoi fans can’t wait to return.
The renovated Oberoi is open to the public from today.