Considered the great lady of Polish hospitality, the iconic Hotel Bristol is celebrating its 120th anniversary today.
With the land first purchased in 1895 by a company run by Stanisław Roszkowski, Edmund Zaremba and the future Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski, the decision to build a hotel was taken in 1898, the cornerstone of which was laid the following year.
Featuring Art Nouveau interiors designed by Otto Wagner and a Neo-Renaissance exterior attributed to architect Władysław Marconi, the hotel opened on November 19, 1901, before welcoming its first guest three days later.
Marta Krzemińska, head of marketing and public relations, told TFN: “Much remains unknown about the purpose of her visit, but we do know that the first guest was a lady from Paris by the name of Emilia Finot. As she walked through the threshold, she was greeted by the manager, a man called Helbling, before showing around the hotel.
What Finot would have considered was considered revolutionary at the time.
“It was one of the most remarkable buildings in the country, certainly in a hospitality format,” says Krzemińska, “and we also know for sure that we had a lot of curious journalists lining up to the stairwell to see the bedrooms. “
With central heating, dual ventilation, fireproof ceilings, walls and floors, and six phone lines (this at a time when Warsaw only had 800 phone numbers listed), it was a mind-blowing experience.
However, it was the elevators that made the biggest impression.
“Back then, the public just weren’t used to getting on and off the elevator, so the hotel even employed a full-time doorman to look after guests and make sure they didn’t. not faint inside, ”says Krzemińska.
Also serving tea and coffee in its crystal enclosures, the visitor elevator caused a stir and dominated the press reviews that followed over the following days. “Some have compared it to a fairytale car,” says Krzemińska.
From the start, the Bristol was a benchmark for luxury with its nightly rate of 8.5 to 25 rubles, the equivalent of many monthly salaries (a cleaning lady, for example, could expect to earn between 6 and 9 rubles at this time). But it was in the interwar period that it really stood out to be part of the very history of modern Poland, as concierge Paweł Owczarek points out:
“The hotel holds a special place in the hearts of the Poles because our independence was born here – when he became Prime Minister, the first meeting of the government of Ignacy Jan Paderewski was held here.”
Known also for his talents as a virtuoso pianist, such was Paderewski’s passion for the hotel that he lived here for some time – today the suite in which he stayed is a nationally protected monument. and the most prestigious suite in the hotel’s arsenal of options.
That aside, the hotel sought additional publicity such as where Józef Piłsudski announced his retirement from politics in 1923; Painter Wojciech Kossak, meanwhile, had his studio here (the artist is said to have occasionally filled his hotel bills by donating his works to the Bristol), although this was later one of the few sections to suffer damage when war broke out.
“Two bombs hit the hotel during the September 1939 siege,” Owczarek explains, “and although they fortunately did not explode, one of them crashed in Kossak’s workshop.”
Reserved for German use only, the occupation brought new challenges, although to a large extent it was its value to the Germans that saved it from the gratuitous demolition which saw much of the center flattened in 1944.
Used as the headquarters of the Warsaw district chief, the Nazi presence also did not deter Polish personnel from engaging in underground activities, and the nooks and crannies of the hotel were used to store weapons before the Warsaw uprising.
Returned to the city in 1947, nationalized in 1948, then completely absorbed by the Orbis chain in 1948, the post-war period welcomed personalities such as Pablo Picasso, JFK and Jan Kiepura.
Considered a mega star of the time, Kiepura sang to the crowd from his corner balcony when he visited in 1958.
Six years later, Marlene Dietrich also stayed, supposed to move after her suite in Europejski turned out to be too small for her dozen bulky travel trunks. Asked at a press conference about what she thought of Polish hotels, the singer reportedly replied with a smile: “Why are you asking? Are you a hotelier? “
But while big names continued to visit the hotel (Dietrich herself returned a few years later), the Bristol was a shadow of what it once was – even the original elevator was removed. in 1969.
“By the 1970s the facilities had become so obsolete that the hotel was demoted to second class by the government and there were plans to donate the building to the University of Warsaw,” says Krzemińska.
“No one wanted to invest in it, and at one point there were even plans to make it the university library.”
Left to languish, it was closed in 1981 and the following years saw many of the original artifacts disappear for good.
But that was by no means the end of the Bristol.
“The hotel has traditionally reflected the political situation in Poland,” says Krzemińska, “and whenever something big happened, all roads led to Bristol. “
It is a theory that echoes the new breath of life that the hotel received after the fall of communism. Bought by the Forte Group, a complete restoration undertaken between 1991 and 1993 saw the hotel revitalized, renovated in a style perfectly compatible with the Bristol’s past. Personal friend of Sir Rocco Forte, Margaret Thatcher was on hand to preside over the hotel’s grand reopening ceremony.
Choosing to celebrate the appeal of its famous clients through a Wall of Fame, the Bristol has not shied away from bonding with the legends that have recorded themselves. Over time, this has resulted in a staggering list of names including Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Bill Gates and Naomi Campbell.
“My favorite personal story, however, is about Marie Skłodowska Curie,” says Krzemińska. “She has remained a Varsovian at heart and during her visit after her second Nobel Prize, a banquet was organized in her honor inside our restaurant Malinova.
“People noticed that she was diligently taking notes as people lined up to meet her. When asked later what she wrote down, she confessed that she hated meetings and just solved math puzzles – I love that she stayed true to herself in this way. , and that’s something we’re pretty proud of now!
Equally satisfying, Owczarek says, was when the Bristol rescued President Bush.
“He was appearing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we were watching this unfold on TV when a request came through that he had left his overcoat in Berlin – could we help!
“With a few minutes to spare, our team were able to find a coat belonging to one of the janitors and it was handed over to the president by our COO – it was a perfect fit and the president was incredibly grateful!”
Perhaps typical of Bristol stories and adventures, this is an anecdote that fits perfectly with the most legendary hotel Poland has to offer.
“From our point of view, the hotel has always been the meeting place between modernity and heritage,” says Krzemińska. “We are proud of this combination and will strive to continue this legacy and embrace it with our customers. “