For a slice of old concession-style Shanghai, look no further than the newly refurbished Peace Hotel, situated on the characteristic Bund riverfront.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel is located in an art-deco mid-rise at the end of the Nanjing East Road, overlooking the broad walkway of the Bund and the river Huangpu.
Immediately across the river is Shanghai’s financial district Pudong, a forest of gleaming glass skyscrapers, the symbols of the new Shanghai. The riverfront opposite, on the other hand, is a legacy of the European dominance of the city in the early 20th century. There is a wide variety of styles, shapes and sizes, yet the final impression yields a remarkably coherent result.
Despite the impressive surroundings, on both sides of the river, the hotel is itself a landmark, and one of the tallest buildings on the Bund.
It also has plenty of history to show for it. It was originally built between 1926 and 1929 by Sir Victor Sassoon. At that time, Sassoon dominated both business and real estate in Shanghai and also traded extensively in Calcutta and Hong Kong.
The tower is in the art deco style and has a strong vertical emphasis. The whole is capped by a large green pyramidal roof. There is nothing fussy in the design, and smooth lines capture the cool elegance of the building. The sight of the lobby, however, is one quite different to behold. The sparkling and soaring vaults are art-nouveau in character and adds an exciting and unsuspected contrast to the outside.
The building was originally known as Sassoon House, but from the start housed the Cathay Hotel, which was considered the most prestigious hotel in Shanghai before 1949.
The communists gave the hotel the name Peace, and in its newly refurbished state, that name has been retained. The Chinese have little cause to be fond of old European quasi-colonial buildings. Yet, there is an increasing awareness that much of what has been left is of outstanding value to the city, no matter the history.
The classical 1930’s feel has been painstakingly restored and the bar in the basement still coolly swings to the beat of American jazz. The band even appear as they have might have been around in Sassoon’s time.
Besides excellent views across the river, the hotel hosts eight distinct restaurants and lounges, themed according to the Chinese or western meals they offer. The 269 guestroom and suites are tastefully furbished and succeed in recapturing a good measure of the old elegance. The shiny bathroom are as if taken out of World War II movie. The refurbishment also includes a sky-lit swimming pool and a spa.
The location is simply gorgeous: The Nanjing east and west roads transverse a good chunk of downtown. The eastern section is pedestrian and folksy, the western part up-market and huffy. Between the two, and only a short walking distance from the hotel, you’ll find the People’s park and the city’s most important museum, among other sites.
In other words, The Fairmont Peace hotel has gotten pretty much everything right in recreating a sense of that old Shanghai, that laid-back feeling of a city that has both cool and buzz. This is where you will find that.