The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai celebrates its 20th birthday this year – and it remains a unique luxury hotel. There are, says the gal, hotels that have a gigantic Antony Gormley gorilla-like sculpture on the outside (The Beaumont, London), there are hotels with integral working ski slopes (Kempinski Mall of Dubai), hotels like standing bagels (Sunrise…) but THIS luxury hotel was deliberately designed by John Portman to be like a mountain. See, above, the 46-floor hotel, sometimes known locally as ‘Bortoman’, after its architect John Portman, flanked by 33-floor towers of offices and residences. This entire complex has everything, including a basement supermarket. Enter the hotel, today, to an elegant lobby. At the far end is a day-long lounge, with a side bar, Movers & Shakers, which is in effect a library with pop-up mixologists.
Area GM Tarik Temucin – whose MBA thesis at Isbanbul’s Maltepe University was on electronic money and macro economic effects – is certainly in the right place here in China, where everything from a cup of tea up to, well, the sky’s the limit, is paid for electronically. Since my last visit, he has added two luxury boutiques to the lobby area, one, Award, a jade emporium and the other, Bola Family, displaying and selling exquisite hand-made shoes. Come out of the hotel, walk left or right along Beijing East Road, and you have Gucci, Louis Vuitton, every one of the West’s top brands. Cross the road (and yes there is a barely-marked pedestrian crossing and yes, so far at least, traffic does stop) and you are in a multi-use sprawling concrete wedding-cake of a complex, the Shanghai Exhibition Center, designed in 1955 by architects Sergey Andreyev and Chen Zi on the 26 acres that had once been the private gardens of Shanghai’s richest man, Silas Hardoon.
Regulars like the 610-room hotel for its location and facilities, but even more for its service. The Club Lounge, on the 43rd floor, is, like all the Ritz lounges I have been fortunate enough to experience, really thoughtful. This one opens 6.30 a.m. and offers full breakfast, with chef, and midday snacks that are more than enough for lunch (loved the Somerdale cheddar, and I did not have space for the Pekin duck or noodles). The attendants are now in chic deep plum, or gentian, shirts, with grey skirts. Angel Jiang immediately came up to say hello and I reminded her how a previous GM, Derek Flint, had told me that she was the reason at least one guest always stays here, nowhere else. At that, a man I did not know turned round and said, to anyone who wanted to listen, ‘I agree, she is superb’.
About 30% of the hotel’s 650-strong team have been here since Ritz-Carlton came in, January 1st, 1998 – the only noticeable turnover has, indeed, been GMs (none of whom have copied opening GM Mark DeCocinis in taking part in the hotel’s vertical marathon, up all the fire stairs, or in offering local tours in the side-car of his 1938 Chang Jiang 750cc, with Stefano Ricci elephant skin seats). To give you an example of how everyone is genuinely happy to do anything, Hotel Manager Sander van Delden personally worked with the hotel’s top IT man to sort out a connectivity challenge that seems to be unique to China and UAE. To celebrate the hotel’s birthday, a really informative coffee table book, for limited-edition giveaways only, shares the history of this luxury hotel. Tarik Temucin and his team have also produced four fascinating folded-A3 local walking-tour maps, covering art, food, heritage and neighbourhood, in a most delightful way. This is a hotel with oodles of personality – as a video below shows. SEE FIRST 4503, THE KAJIMA SUITE, AND THEN THE DAILY 6PM CANDLE-LIGHTING CEREMONY