Grand Hotels.

One of the incidental pleasures of reading books like John Horne Burns’s The Gallery, in which people bounce around between cities, is discovering another example of the Grand Historic Hotel, one of my favorite phenomena. To honor the occasion, I’ve compiled a list of them, the sort of place movie stars, counts, and foreign correspondents were likely to be found in l’entre-deux-guerres, having a drink on the terrace or losing their shirts in the casino. I’ve had to eliminate those with excessively common monikers like Grand, Plaza, Europe, Ritz, and Astor(ia); I’ve arranged names and cities alphabetically, and your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to match them. There are no prizes, since this stuff is easily googled. The city names are historic because the hotels are, and this is an exercise in nostalgia. I imagine most of you will recognize at least a few, but I doubt anyone will know them all. (Alas, I have only stayed in one, but I have had eaten in another and set eyes on a couple more.) Without further ado, the hotels:

Grande Bretagne
La Mamounia
Pera Palace

And the cities:

Hong Kong

Needless to say, I welcome both additions and anecdotes. (Oh, and there’s a nice list of historic hotels here.)


  1. The Phoenicia is still open and still seen as the best hotel in Beirut. Today it’s mostly frequented by Saudis and Gulf Arabs. I never stayed there (above my price league), but we (colleagues, friends, family) frequently visited the Italian restaurant on the ground floor / street level when I lived in Lebanon. For some time in 2005 it was difficult to access, as it’s near the place where Rafic Hariri was blown up.

  2. The Phoenicia is still open and still seen as the best hotel in Beirut.

    Glad to hear it! I wish I could visit it; my democratic/populist instincts are trumped by my love for musty old lobbies full of leather chairs and bars a mile long with bartenders who speak a dozen languages and have seen it all.

  3. I personally like visiting the great lodges constructed at national parks and other natural sites. There was a wonderful short PBS series (produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting) about twenty years ago that highlighted most of the major ones in the U.S. They have a very different character from urban grand hotels, but some of them are quite famous and many are exceedingly beautiful.

  4. It’s not quite in the Grand category, but I’ve eaten at Surabaya’s equivalent of Raffles, the Majapahit, the model for Schomberg’s hotel in Conrad’s Victory back when Surabaya was Soerabaja and Europeans with dark and sordid secrets washed up in the archipelago and never left (which still happens). The atmosphere of Conradian decay has been disinfected and the concert hall is now used for bureaucratic conferences.

    “It was a curious and impressive sight, the inside of Schomberg’s concert-hall, encumbered at one end by a great stack of chairs piled up on and about the musicians’ platform, and lighted at the other by two dozen candles disposed about a long trestle table covered with green cloth. In the middle, Mr. Jones, a starved spectre turned into a banker, faced Ricardo, a rather nasty, slow-moving cat turned into a croupier. By contrast, the other faces round that table, anything between twenty and thirty, must have looked like collected samples of intensely artless, helpless humanity — pathetic in their innocent watch for the small turns of luck which indeed might have been serious enough for them. They had no notice to spare for the hairy Pedro, carrying a tray with the clumsiness of a creature caught in the woods and taught to walk on its hind legs.

    “As to Schomberg, he kept out of the way. He remained in the billiard-room, serving out drinks to the unspeakable Pedro with an air of not seeing the growling monster, of not knowing where the drinks went, of ignoring that there was such a thing as a music-room over there under the trees within fifty yards of the hotel…”

  5. Ah, that’s the stuff! I want to be served a drink by the unspeakable Pedro and watch the collected samples of artless, helpless humanity.

  6. You’ve misspelt Stamboul, old boy.

  7. So I have! Damn place should be Constantinople, anyway.

  8. (Although, technically speaking, the Pera Palace is, of course, in Pera.)

  9. J.W. Brewer says
  10. This harkens me back to my misspent youth in the late 1980s, when I stayed at the Bela Vista in Macao, a formerly grand hotel that had become, as per my guide book, a vision of crumbling decadence, of colonial grandeur gone to seed. In the evening, we felt like extras in the 1952 movie “Macao”.
    Youtube catches about 5% of the atmosphere.
    There’s a boutique hotel there now, and it appears the vulgarians have taken over much of the country, so I have to be satisfied with my memories.

  11. Some recentish photos of one of the entries on your list

    Thanks for that; that’s the one I actually stayed in (I had Armenian brandy on that terrace), and I’d been afraid to check on it. I’m relieved to see it’s not destroyed, and in fact it looks pretty much like it did when I was there over a quarter of a century ago.

    I have to be satisfied with my memories.

    As do we all.

  12. A favorite topic of mine.

    With the current “What is Aleppo” flap, it’s nice to see the Baron included. Mostly intact I think but on the front lines. I once drank at the bar (too expensive to stay there.) Others I’ve seen or visited personally: Cecil in Alexandria, Maamouniya in Marrakech, Shepheards (though not the original burned in 1952) in Cairo, Phoenicia in Beirut, Pera Palace in Istanbul, Peninsula in Hong Kong, Raffles in Singapore.

    Three worth adding from the Middle East: King David in Jerusalem, Old Winter Palace in Luxor, Old Cataract in Aswan, all of which could challenge the Cecil in Alexandria.

  13. So I have! Damn place should be Constantinople, anyway.

    I’ve been thinking a decent compromise might be to revive “Constantinople”/”Kostantiniye” for the municipality currently called Fatih (“Conqueror”), which is coextensive with the Roman city, while keeping “Istanbul” for the much bigger metropolis.

  14. Others I’ve seen or visited personally: Cecil in Alexandria, Maamouniya in Marrakech, Shepheards (though not the original burned in 1952) in Cairo, Phoenicia in Beirut, Pera Palace in Istanbul, Peninsula in Hong Kong, Raffles in Singapore.

    I envy you, sir.

    too expensive to stay there

    Yeah, my wife and I had to leave for a much cheaper fleabag after a couple of nights, but it was worth it for the memories.

  15. David Marjanović says

    I like looking at such places, but simply have no desire to live or eat in a place that’s so much more expensive than necessary…

    İ-stan-bul is now thought to be ή Κονστάντινου πόλις, “Constantine’s city”, as it was often called in East Roman times.

  16. Not sure what you mean by “more expensive than necessary”; you can’t run a grand hotel or a great restaurant on the cheap, after all. If you mean more expensive than you care to shell out for, that’s a different matter. I suppose frugality is a virtue. But I do enjoy a bit of luxury once in a while.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Once I like things, throwing more luxury at them yields no further improvement.

    In 2011 the usual big annual conference was in Las Vegas, specifically in the Paris casino. (Why? Because it’s big enough to handle that many people. Also, there’s a university somewhere else in the city and a few ichthyosaurs farther out.) Twice a day you could see small hordes of hungry scientists desperately roaming the Strip in search of vaguely affordable food. Once we found a Chinese place deep, deep in Caesar’s Palace, and I ended up eating a dish for a whopping 18 $. It was very good; it was worth this kind of price, and if I lived close to such a restaurant and had, like, a whole lot of money, I’d eat there often. But beyond this price level, how much better can food even get? Probably only by the addition of rare ingredients that I wouldn’t like anyway. Almost anywhere else on the Strip, any dish costs of 24 $ and more (before tips – can’t remember if taxes are included in Nevada); these are fantasy prices – it doesn’t even occur to me to spend that much money on food. They’re meant for normal casino visitors who have money to burn and came there to do just that.

    Last year (or, wait… maybe three years ago) I had a pretty long stay on the airport of Frankfurt. I got hungry and walked up and down the entire terminal. I almost lost my hunger just from looking at the prices – all the eateries, from the grandest restaurant to the lowliest coffee place, charged prices out of a random-number generator. Finally, the last one I looked at offered a sort of affordable, large bowl of carrot/ginger soup with bread, and so I still walk among the living…

  18. I don’t think airport eateries that charge an arm and a leg because they can get away with it are comparable to restaurants that charge enough to cover the cost of real estate + trained staff + often expensive ingredients, not to mention the pleasure of good wine if you’re a wine drinker. I may well never eat in one of those places again, but I value my memories of meals at Montrachet, the Union Square Cafe, the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara, the Pálffy Palác in Prague, etc. Must I quote Lear? “Allow not nature more than nature needs,/ Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. “

  19. Mind you, I’m certainly not saying you can only get great food at fancy restaurants; I’ve had superb meals at places that only charged a few bucks. But you can’t get the same kind of superb meal at a cheap place as at the Pálffy Palác.

  20. Stephen C. Carlson says

    İ-stan-bul is now thought to be ή Κονστάντινου πόλις, “Constantine’s city”, as it was often called in East Roman times.
    Does this mean that the old derivation from εἰς τὴν πόλιν (“to the city”) is kaput?

  21. David Marjanović says

    Does this mean that the old derivation from εἰς τὴν πόλιν (“to the city”) is kaput?

    Apparently, though I’m too tired to google for it all. (Everything has been discussed here on LH before, with links.) The new derivation does have the advantage of explaining why it’s İstanbul rather than İstinbul (both being equally bad violations of Turkish vowel harmony as far as I can tell), and the advantage of not needing to postulate that a direction became a place name in a language with a fully functional allative case.

  22. I brought up the etymology of Istanbul in this post but nobody talked about it; the subject came up in this thread back in 2007, and David said the same thing:

    interesting. So not εις την πόλιν?

    Apparently not. Though it would doubtless help if I could remember the source. Hm. Somewhere online, in some ad hoc transcription (Googling for the Greek does not work).

  23. Stephen C. Carlson says

    It would be nice to nail down a reference for the new etymology, especially because I can’t find any other source claiming such. I’m particularly interested in how to account for the loss all but the second syllable of Κωνσταντίνου (note placement of the accent and spelling of the first syllable to assist one’s googling).

  24. A tasting menu with wine pairing is between 400 and 500 dollars at the top restaurants in the world.

    A front row parterre seat at the Met is 445 dollars. (1500 on opening nights).

    Both are experiences you’ll remember for years.

  25. Exactly. I don’t believe in wasting money, but I believe in the occasional memorable splurge.

  26. How does the revised etymology for İstanbul deal with what under the old theory looked like the parallel case of İstanköy, the Turkish name for Kos (and the related Romance forms Stancho, Stanchio, or Stinco – these last ones are from Wikipedia as I was not previously aware of them)? People have tended to derive this from εις τὴν Κῶ(ν), with the last syllable presumably influenced by Turkish köy (= village). Obviously the precise vocalism probably shows influence from İstanbul.

  27. I asked the same question about the etymology of Istanbul when David asserted this on another post recently, and I don’t recall him answering. I did point out that the correct accentuation of Konstantinou makes his derivation look less likely. Also, the way I heard it long ago, it was an Anatolian Greek dialect with tan instead of tin.

  28. Also, the way I heard it long ago, it was an Anatolian Greek dialect with tan instead of tin.

    I had some such vague idea in my head, but I’d certainly like to see a good discussion of it.

  29. A tasting menu with wine pairing is between 400 and 500 dollars at the top restaurants in the world.

    Crikey! If they charge you that much just to taste the food, how much does it cost to actually eat at these places?

  30. Also Iznik for Nicaea and Izmir for Smyrna, and similarly for town names all over Anatolia. This naming of cities from the locative form of an older name is widespread in many languages. For example, it is thought to be the origin for a lot of German town names ending in -en.

    It was done in Greek long before the Turks arrived. For example, Athens was called Satines, and Thebes Stives when they were under French rule in the 12th and 13th centuries.

    So I think a lot more evidence is needed before the traditional etymology of Istanbul is abandoned.

    On another topic —why do I see my typos and thinkos only after I hit post?

  31. @David L: A little less 🙂 The current #1 actually has a menu with separate dishes, and you can get three courses for 200€ where the tasting menu costs 220. But the tasting menu is nine little dishes, and you probably won’t be going home hungry.

  32. There is a discusson of -tan- for -tin- in İstanbul in the article The second syllable of Istanbul by Marcel Erdal, elaborating on The etymology of İstanbul by Marek Stachowski and Robert Woodhouse.

  33. David Marjanović says



    Also, the way I heard it long ago, it was an Anatolian Greek dialect with tan instead of tin.

    That’s very interesting.

  34. David Marjanović says

    I just tried to tap the powers of the Google after I remembered that my source had pointed out that the explanation from εἰς τὴν πόλιν played into the Greek and indeed Ottoman prejudice that Turks were stupid. Google still comes up empty, at least on the first page. Anyway, it almost certainly wasn’t a scientific paper, though it could have cited one.

    Anyway, İzmir looks like someone just slapped an article on Smyrna (but why?), but İznik can’t be explained that way.

  35. There is a discusson of -tan- for -tin- in İstanbul in the article The second syllable of Istanbul by Marcel Erdal,

    Thanks very much for that! Lots of interesting stuff there; a couple of crucial bits:

    The primary aim of the fully and elaborately documented paper [by Stachowski and Woodhouse] appears to be to show that the name does not come from Κωνσταντινούπολις or Κωνσταντινόπολις; in this the paper is fully convincing.

    The form Istanbul with /a/ in the second syllable makes, I think, sense only if we take the Karesi and Ottoman Turks to have at first been in social and linguistic contact primarily with this population which spoke a dialect exhibiting Doric features.

  36. As a primary-school-age kid in Beirut in the 60s, I went to the Phoenicia once or twice as they hosted a Christmas bazaar with Father Christmas in attendance. I also went to the St Georges Hotel across the road & more on the sea. It was famous for being a nest of spies in the Cold War (eg Kim Philby) and also had its glamour set, like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and the Shah of Iran.

    I had tea in Shepheard’s in Cairo once, on business in the late 80s or early 90s.

  37. David Marjanović says

    There is a discusson of -tan- for -tin- in İstanbul in the article The second syllable of Istanbul by Marcel Erdal, elaborating on The etymology of İstanbul by Marek Stachowski and Robert Woodhouse.

    Together, these two papers clear everything up. I’ve bookmarked your comment. 🙂

  38. Add to the list the Adlon in Berlin. We only had drinks there a couple of times but they were served with a charming combination of style, formality and good humour. Every other grand hotel we tried there was part of a chain with poor to non-existent service for a casual visitor.
    The old Metropole in Monte Carlo, before it was rebuilt (and wrecked, in our opinion) by one of the Beirut warlords (I forget which). Had the biggest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. And the small swimming pool outside the bar was little used for swimming but was the gathering place for Formula 1 autoracing people in the 60s and 70s, served by the barman, Roger.
    The Connaught in London. These days, the Bristol and the Meurice in Paris. The Hotel du Rhone in Geneva (I once saw Brigitte Bardot there, she was sulky and had bad skin), but the classier one was the Richmond.

  39. Stephen C. Carlson says

    Thanks for posting the papers. Very interesting. I will no longer claim the classical εἰς τὴν πόλιν when στην πόλι would have been the relevant form for “to the city”.

  40. The longer “nice list of historic hotels” linked in the original post seems to have been compiled as part of someone’s marketing initiative so perhaps does not meet wikipedian standards of obsessive-compulsive completeness. That said, the earliest-founded one on that list I’ve personally stayed at is Brown’s, in London. Which is quite nice but maybe a different atmosphere than these exotic “away from the European mother country in the mysterious Orient” ones.

  41. And finally

    I guessed what that was going to be before I clicked on the link.

  42. NYC historic hotels include the Aberdeen, the Algonquin, the Ansonia, the Belleclaire, the Chelsea, the Cosmopolitan, the Gotham, the Iroquois, the Keller, the Knickerbocker, the Marseilles, the Martha Washington, the Martinique, the Plaza, the St. George, and the Regis. Their fates have been very various: some are still luxury hotels, others are budget hotels, long-term apartment buildings, senior citizen housing, under reconstruction, or abandoned.

  43. You got something against the Waldorf-Astoria?

  44. January First-of-May says

    So I have! Damn place should be Constantinople, anyway.

    Renamed in 1930 or 1932, IIRC, so in the time period you’re describing (if I understand it correctly) it could just as easily be one or the other.

  45. It was you who excluded hotels with overly popular names. There’s a Grand Hotel in NYC too, now pretty much a fleabag.

  46. I was going to say “Well, Waldorf is popular and Astoria is popular, but Waldorf-Astoria…” but then I googled and found Waldorf-Astorias in Orlando and Chicago. Not to mention the depressing news that “The Waldorf Astoria New York, the first hotel to offer round-the-clock room service and the birthplace of such brunch mainstays as the Waldorf salad and Eggs Benedict, will close in early 2017 for a top-to-bottom renovation that will convert more than three-quarters of the hotel’s 1,413 rooms into luxury condominiums.” Bah, I say for the thousandth time, bah!

  47. Anyway, İzmir looks like someone just slapped an article on Smyrna (but why?), but İznik can’t be explained that way.

    No need to assume an article: Turkish borrows words in /sC-/ by slapping an /i/ on the beginning, just as Spanish does with /e/. Thus station (French) is borrowed as istasyon. İznik must be by analogy.

  48. January First-of-May says

    Turkish borrows words in /sC-/ by slapping an /i/ on the beginning, just as Spanish does with /e/.

    As I’ve read in one of Lev Uspensky’s popular linguistic books (can’t recall which one), Turkish (supposedly) borrowed the word шкаф (Russian for “cupboard”) as ышкаф, and the French word шмендефер (i.e. chemin-de-ferre “railway”) as ышмендефер.
    (Not sure of the actual Turkish orthography, sorry.)

  49. Peter H Desmond says

    some mention should at least be made of some Savoy hotel somewhere. i peered at the one in florence!

  50. David Marjanović says

    İznik must be by analogy.

    Or more likely from the s- meaning “to, at” on the Greek side, as Satines above.

    (Not sure of the actual Turkish orthography, sorry.)

    That would straightforwardly be ışkaf and, strangely not vowel-harmonized, ışmendefer. The mighty Google is pessimistic on the former, finding just 25 hits (including one for işkaf!) that are mostly Tatar and Azeri; Tatar, obviously, is a prime candidate for borrowings from Russian. One of the results is a presentation of the Turkmen language (pdf), in Turkish, apparently by three Turkmens, that says that Turkmen does plenty of pros- and epenthesis: the Google preview is “Yabancı kelimelerin başında (sklad > ısklat > ıskılat, şkaf > ışkaf ) ve iç seste (abstrakt > abıstrakt > abıstırakt, boks > bokus ) ünlü türemesi görülür. Me-.”.

    Wikipedia further says, or once said, that Tatar has borrowed Russian bank as banık. (…Although Tatar has a /ŋ/, Russian has no [ŋ] at all.)

    Both ışmendefer and işmendefer are unknown to Google. Wikipedia says Turkish and Tatar use the apparent calques demiryolu and тимер юлы /timərjulɯ/.

  51. Many Turkic language seem to have restrictions on syllable-initial clusters (as opposed to syllable-final ones). I remember reading an article in an Uzbek (Russian-language) newspaper (end of the 90s) criticizing rural Uzbek functionaries for trying to speak Russian and failing instead of sticking to their native Uzbek. The author gave examples, and the one feature of their speech I remember is inserting anaptyctic vowels, e.g. saying pilan instead of plan. (This may also be Iranian influence in case of Uzbek, see Persian farhang “dictionary” with metathesis of older fra-.)

  52. David Marjanović says

    Most languages outside of IE have strong restrictions on consonant clusters, especially syllable-initial ones.

  53. Turkish phonotactics. In particular, initial ı is forbidden, as are all initial consonant clusters except in recent borrowings (and even they are often pronounced with epenthetic vowels). Only six final clusters exist: rp rt rk lp lt lk. But vowel harmony is not a requirement in borrowings (indeed, I know no language that consistently forces it on borrowings).

  54. I’d like to take the işmendefer to Smackover, Arkansas.

  55. Wiktionary lists şimendifer as an obsolete synonym of demir yolu.

  56. Annette Pickles says

    initial ı is forbidden

    It is not the vowel /ɯ/, written ı, that is forbidden in initial position. Rather, there is no initial occurrence of ğ, representing a segment that in the Wikipedia article linked to above was conventionally notated /ɰ/ (corresponding in Turkish dialects to a sound realized as a voiced velar/uvular fricative in back vowel environments). Although phonologists debate the status of this /ɰ/ as a phoneme in the Republican Turkish phonological system, there is no native or naturalized word beginning ğ.

    The section of the dictionary containing words beginning with ı is only a few pages long at most, but nevertheless the vowel /ɯ/ begins many everyday Turkish words of both Turkic and extra-Turkic origin: ılık, lukewarm, ırk, race, lineage, ıslak, wet, ışık, light, ıspanak, spinach, ıstakoz, lobster, ızgara, grill, place names like Irak and Iğdır, and even the old-fashioned ıstılah, technical term.

    Only six final clusters exist: rp rt rk lp lt lk.

    There is also a much wider variety of final clusters than this in Turkish. Consider abdest, ablutions before prayer, aşk, love, cift, pair, felç, paralysis, valf, valve, etc. In particular, there are the final clusters -nk [-ŋk], -nç, -nt, -mp in both the Turkic and non-Turkic vocabulary (-mp only in European loanwords?): renk, color, denk, equal, kıskanç, jealous, kent, city, ant, oath, kramp, cramp, kamp, camp. There are also wide variety of miscellaneous clusters, generally of Arabic origin, pronounced without any epenthesis, as in semt, neighborhood, or zapt, seizure, capture, or zevk, pleasure.

  57. Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed that there is zevk, instead of zevik, -vki in Turkish.

  58. Thanks for the corrections.

  59. David Marjanović says

    denk, equal

    Incidentally a Middle Chinese loanword into Proto-Turkic.

    I wouldn’t have guessed that there is zevk

    I wonder if that’s connected to the fact that -v and -z, unlike most plosives, are exempt from word-final devoicing.

  60. The Oriental in Bangkok!

    The Hotel New Grand in Yokohama does have “Grand” in the name, and it is quite a bit less “cosmopolitan” than most of the others, but it was where Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Gen. MacArthur, etc. used to do their thing. (Not all three at the same time.)

  61. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I don’t think I’ve been in any of those hotels, except possibly Raffles when I was about 6. I’ve certainly seen Raffles from the outside, and it was one of the very few things in Singapore that seemed not to have changed in 45 years, apart from the names of major roads, which are still as they were in 1950 — Thompson Road, Buka Timah Road…. The Army Base at Nee Soon where I went to school was (in 1996) the home of the 22nd Singapore Infantry Brigade. I was surprised that Singapore was big enough to have 22 Infantry Brigades, but probably most of the numbers are missing.

  62. The Oriental in Bangkok!

    I don’t remember the Oriental from my time there (late ’50s-early ’60s), but we lived just down the road from the Erawan, and I spent a fair amount of time there. (Also the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, where I swam.)

  63. re: Bangkok, I’ve actually never been to or even clearly glimpsed the Oriental, I just know it’s supposed to be the Conrad/Graham Greene-type “grand hotel” in town.

    …and I also lived just down the road from the Erawan, opposite the sports club – from 2007-2010. Of course, now that intersection has been a bit marred by protests, arson, and bombing. My wife and I had difficulty getting to work in 2010 because protesters actually erected bamboo and tire barricades around the neighborhood, like so:

    …to turn this back to language, apparently Erawan = Airavata,

    which seems to mean “son of Iravati”, and in turn Iravati = the Irawaddy river in Burma? I had no idea. Connections everywhere!

Speak Your Mind