The Grand Hotel is, as its name suggests, the grande dame of the Calcutta hospitality scene. Located, as it was and still is, on Chowringhee Road, it is situated right in the centre of the city’s social and entertainment scene.
The site on which the hotel presently sits originally played host to private residences as well as a theatre. In 1911, Armenian businessman, Arathoon Stephen, bought the site and developed it into the Grand Hotel.
The Grand Hotel was equivalent to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Strand Hotel in Rangoon. Certainly, similarities between these hotels ran further because they were all established by Armenians, who occupied a niche in the British Far East as hoteliers.
In its day, the hotel played host to Indian royalty, heads of state, celebrities and writers. By 1937, the hotel had shut down, but was swiftly re-opened in 1939 and operated by one Mohan Singh Oberoi, who had earlier established the Oberoi Group of Hotel in 1934. The Oberoi Group finally acquired the Grand Hotel in 1948, and it has been operated by the Group ever since.
Today the hotel goes by the name, the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and is still the premier hotel in Calcutta. During my stay, I opted to go for the Premier Room with a balcony that overlooked the museum’s courtyard and swimming pool. And I spent many a late afternoon nursing a glass of wine on my balcony and watching the sun set over the city.
While much of the hotel has been recently overhauled, its Chowringhee Bar, with Anglo-Indian style wicker furniture and a billiard table, still reeks of the old world. And its cosy La Terrasse hotel restaurant, though pricey, serves perhaps the best Bengali and Anglo-Indian food in town. My last night in Calcutta, I bid the city goodbye by tucking into an absolutely scrumptious Bengali thali, and prepared myself for the onward journey to the second stop of my Grand Tour of the Subcontinent: Benares (Varanasi).