The Connemara Hotel was the grande dame of the Madras hospitality scene. Its earliest incarnation was a private residence bought in 1815 by one of the foremost merchants of the city at the time, Mr John Binny. The road on which the hotel sits today – Binny Road – still bears his name.
It was sold and became, first in 1867, the Imperial Hotel and then in 1886, the Albany Hotel, before finally becoming the Connemara Hotel in 1891, when it was sold to yet another major merchant house in Madras – the M/S Spencer & Co.
The hotel was named after Lord Connemara, who was Governor of Madras from 1886 – 1890. The land it stands on had belonged to the Nawab of Arcot (also the Nawab of the Carnatic). Lord Connemara and the Nawab had been fast friends, and indeed, a portrait of the two gentlemen still hangs today just off the lobby of the Hotel.
The Hotel as it stands today is an Art Deco building which was completed and re-opened in 1937. It used to stand on the edge of a large grassy plain though unfortunately, much of its front court today has been replaced by a huge thoroughfare and the hotel building abuts its own wall.
Post World War II and after the Indian Republic gained its independence from the British, the hotel management refurbished the premises once more, and invited, as its interior designer, a certain Geoffrey Bawa from Ceylon. The latter, of course, would become the most important architect from Sri Lanka, known for having originated the Tropical Modernism movement in contemporary architecture.
The hotel today is managed by the Taj Group and has been renamed Vivanta by Taj – Connemara. It is positioned as a business hotel, and has lost much of its historic grandeur. Nonetheless, a stay within its walls is still a pleasant experience, due to its excellent dining establishments, the wonderfully atmospheric rooms in its historic wing, and the restful environment at its lovely swimming pool.
- The Great House on Choultry Plain, a commemorative volume published by Vivanta by Taj Connemara Chennai, and available for purchase at Reception.
Next stop on The Grand Tour III: Pondicherry (Puducherry)