The Reopening of Oberoi, Mumbai Excites a City

by  Kristan Schiller | May 25, 2010
Oberoi Mumbai
Oberoi Mumbai / Photo courtesy of the property

I’ve just returned to my 20th-floor room overlooking Mumbai Harbor after a dinner of blue crab salad and mango, paired with an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from the Nasik region of India (yes, excellent wine – from India!). Here at the newly reopened Oberoi, Mumbai, details surprise even the seasoned traveler in the most magical way.

Beside my bed, the hotel staff has placed a copy of Suketu Mehta’s book, Maximum City, about the seething hub from which this luxury hotel provides an opulent respite. However, until its official reopening three weeks ago, the hotel was less a respite and more a reminder of the tragedy that took place here in November 2008, a three-day siege by Pakistani terrorists that took the lives of more than 170 people, including a number of the hotel’s longtime staff.

Gauri Kitchlu, a spokeswoman for the hotel, proudly points out that on the eve of the reopening, locals who were fans of the Oberoi, Mumbai before it closed poured into the lobby restaurant, Fenix, well past midnight, just to feel the excitement of the place, now back in business. Also new is Ziya, a nouveau-Indian restaurant under the direction of Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia. All of the 73 suites and 214 guest rooms have been renovated and the presidential suites on the top floor of the hotel also now have adjoining security rooms rigged to the hotel's closed-circuit TV systems (which they did not have prior to the attacks). A requisite security check as you enter the hotel has been implemented, too – behind a folding screen near the circular doors, all guests are frisked and checked by security while their bags are placed on a rolling belt and tagged for clearance. Apparently, even the 81-year-old P.R.S. Oberoi, chairman and CEO of his namesake hotel group, must undergo this process.

This new beginning, which cost over $45 million, is in many ways a reflection of Oberoi himself. The hotel was built in 1986 on reclaimed land and was consider to be Oberoi’s favorite in his collection of luxury properties throughout India and Mauritius. Perhaps that is why he’s been so fastidious with the particulars of its rebirth. Much of the modern art in the lobby and hallways has been plucked from his personal collection, and the gleaming white floor (which is cleaned round-the-clock by attendants) is made from marble tiles personally selected by Mr. Oberoi from the Greek island of Thassos. Even the exotic fish flitting around in clear glass bowls on the tables at Fenix were chosen in a very deliberate manner – they had to have red tails, to match the red floral arrangements and décor throughout the restaurant.

Oberoi Mumbai’s opening – and the impending return to full service of the historic wing of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (the other hotel attacked across town) – is an important event for the city of Mumbai. At the moment, there are about as many staff as guests here, but this is presumably because it is pre-monsoon season, the hottest time of year in India, when would-be Western visitors are waiting for the rains to pass. As they wait, the hotel waits with them, polishing, primping and preparing.

For more trip-planning information, see our Mumbai Travel Guide.

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