Final Night At The Excelsior

The Excelsior is one of the most iconic hotels in Hong Kong. The Four-Star waterfront property in the heart of Hong Kong’s famed Causeway Bay district closed its doors on 31st March after 46 years of operation. Last Saturday night, I joined seven hundred other guests for the final night at The Excelsior.  This is my experience:

By the time I arrive around 5pm, the hotel is already closing its doors to the public. It took me quite a few minutes to get into the hotel, as the guards at the front door have to verify my reservations for the final night of the hotel’s operation. It is their final night of service and entry is now strictly “in-house guest only”.

The Reception: The Hotel only opened to farewell party ticket holders and in-house guests on its final night.

I paid 2800HKD (360USD) for this one night stay in the Deluxe Room, which came with the amazing view of Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbour. As wells as free breakfast for two as part of my Fans for MO loyalty benefits.

I loved the design of the room. The little couch by the window is fantastic for relaxation with a cuppa in hand while enjoying the fabulous view. In fact, I am writing this piece right now lying on the couch. Despite it being an extra gloomy day as Hong Kong enters its rainy Spring season, the view is still something to die for.

Room With A View: The view of Victoria Harbour is one of the most iconic skylines in the world. In fact, many visitors to Hong Kong pay an exorbitant amount of money to visit the Peak gallery for the best pictures.
Final Look: The Deluxe Harbour View Room of The Excelsior. The lack of lighting in the room and the extra gloomy day made photo taking quite disastrous. My favourite part of the room is the couch by the window.

The room is well maintained, but definitely well past its prime. The carpet looks straight from the 70s and the use of modern abstract art as in-room decoration won’t hide the room’s showing of its age. It is easy to see why the hotel is closing down, for its price, it’s simply no longer a competitive business. To upgrade all of the existing facilities and revive the hotel to keep up with the competition will be too much of an investment and a daunting task to complete. Although not one of the top hotels in Hong Kong anymore, the land it sits on is still prime real estate, where it will be soon redeveloped into a mixed-use office building for 5.1Billion HKD (650M USD).

A Brand New View: 1973 was the same year the Hong Kong Coliseum began construction and the view out of this room’s window should to be the Hung Hom Bay, a small bay in Victoria Harbour now fully reclaimed with new buildings built on top of it. What you see now is the TST Hung Hom Promenade, which only opened in 2011.

The Excelsior was built in 1973 on the site called “Lot No.1”, the very first piece of land being sold in Hong Kong Island when it became a British Colony in 1841. The real estate has been owned by the Jardine Matheson Group, which also owns the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group that managed and used the hotel as its headquarters. Interestingly, this plot of land is still registered as “Lot No.1” in the government registry until today.

Relic of the Colonial Past: This picture of Prince Charles of Wales exiting the hotel lobby in 1979 can be seen in a modest wooden frame hanging by the staircase from the hotel lobby to the famed Dickens Bar.
“I am not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill transvestite!”: Peter Stellars as Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau for “Revenge of The Pink Panther” in 1978 will be his final on-set performance before his death in 1980. He was pictured at The Excelsior’s main entrance, where the revolving door behind him was later removed after falling out of fashion.

The hotel welcomed many renowned guests over the years, most notably Prince Charles of Wales when he stayed at the hotel in 1979. The hotel was also famed for being the part of the film set, as well as hosting the entire film crew, of “The Revenge of The Pink Panther” in 1975. There were also the frequent and loyal patrons, with one gentleman racking up over 2,200 nights at the hotel. That is over six years worth of nights.

Tonight, the hotel felt like it has returned to its former glory. The lobby is packed, filled with the smell of Rosemary Gin, and music from “Revenge of The Pink Panther” was playing in loops. People flew in from all over the world for the hotel’s farewell, and occasionally you do find a few people that snuck inside using the good old “need to use the loo” trick when questioned by the doorman.

The Final Feast: You know me, I never miss a glass, albeit this amazing Rosemary Gin Cocktail, where the rosemary was slightly charred by the bartender using a blowtorch that brought out its terrific aroma.
The Red Carpet: Guests were lining up to take all the commemorative photos they can. I am one of them.

Two actors were hired to re-enact the film sets of “Revenge of the Pink Panther”. The hotel used one corner of the lobby to set up a photo booth with a backdrop of the old front entrance of the hotel (with the revolving doors) as well as a red sedan chair. It was a rather long queue, but definitely, a snap never to forget.

Snap: It was quite a queue to get photos taken. I think it took about 20 minutes or so, and what you see in my hand is the second glass of Rosemary Gin.

Every staff member that I encountered throughout my stay has a smile on their face. I can’t imagine how they can just keep their cool and providing their best and final service from check-in to the reception and then the party, to every last customer on this very last night. It’s a show of professionalism at its best, and I have great respect to all the staff for this. In fact, not a single staff member resigned since the announcement of the hotel’s closure last year, they are all committed to this place, till the very end.

Mandarin Oriental Group has promised to reallocate all the staff member that will be made redundant. When I jokingly asked some of the staff members what they felt about “losing their jobs”, the answers are dissimilar. Some are returning to the countries where they came from, while some, at the end of their career, decided to call it a day for good. The young Turkish man that brought Hainanese Chicken Rice for my in-room dining service was especially ecstatic about his new job. “I’m going back to Turkey, to Mandarin Oriental Turkey.”

The young Turkish man that brought Hainanese Chicken Rice for my in-room dining service was especially ecstatic about his new job. “I’m going back to Turkey, to Mandarin Oriental Turkey.”

I have to admit, I procrastinated about purchasing the party ticket, as I tried inviting friends to join me for the event. I did book the room, but just not the tickets to the party. The solution? sneaking in after the dinner reception, like a typical cheeky bastard. For the rest of the night, I lost my phone, found it on the stairs going down to Dickens Bar, then lost it again after a few minutes.

The Last Service: Breakfast was served in the hotel’s Cafe on the 1st restaurant customarily. The food breakfast spread was generous, but I’ve definitely seen better. The service was top notch, amazing.

I woke up around 7:45am, in my own bed, before taking a quick shower and headed downstairs to meet a friend of mine that I invited to enjoy breakfast with. The food is fine, but I’ve definitely seen better. Either way, I was not ravenously hungry after the fulfilling night. It was quite heartwarming when you see long-time guests trying to comfort some employees that are clearly trying hard to put up a happy face. At this point, when the party is over and with all the depressants consumed, everyone is getting a little emotional.

The lobby was less busy than it was the night before, but still, it’s still packed with people as long lines formed with all the guests checking out at about the same time. With many others taking some last minute pictures.

Occasionally, you see a few unknowing guests horrified upon learning that the hotel is closing down in a mere few hours. I overheard the conversation of a couple from Mainland China who was lining up in front of me at check-out, clearly confused about why a luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel was not offering luggage storage.

“The concierge said they can’t store the luggage for us, because the hotel is closing.”

“What do you even mean by the hotel is closing?” 

Another Gloomy Day: Imaging instead of this magnificent building, you see a 26 storey office block.
Suitcase and Stairs: After going down one level of stairs, through the car park of the adjacent building and then a series of underground passes, you will reach the Noon Day Gun from The Excelsior.

After check-out, I lingered around the lobby for a few more photos of the interior before heading across the expressway to the Noon Day Gun, where a ceremony will take place at noon to mark the hotel’s closure.

The Noon Day Gun is owned and managed by the very same Jardine Matheson Group that owns The Excelsior. It’s a rather unique tourist attraction where the three-pound gun, which was used in the Battle of Jutland in World War One, will be fired every day at noon time. It’s a tradition that dates back to the British Colonial Era and was kept in practice by Jardine until today. Remember that gentleman I mentioned previously that stayed 2,200 nights at The Excelsior? He is the one to fire that cannon today.

The Distinguished: I can’t imagine someone staying at the same hotel for six years worth of time, but this man did, and his loyalty is rewarded by firing a cannon to mark the hotel’s closure (above). Rickey Au Yeung, the financial controller of The Excelsior, posing for a photo in front of the Noon Day Gun (below)

That is how you mark the closure of a hotel with a blast, literally.

Final Goodbye: Some hotel staff can be seen taking photos and videos of the firing of the Noon Day Gun, before going on their own celebration party in the hotel lobby after all guests left.

As the hotel staffs gather for their final few hours in the property, I left the hotel pondering the implications. Hotels making way for office blocks are certainly not new in Hong Kong, The original Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong closed in 2008 for the site to be redeveloped as an office building, before reopening in the ICC in 2011. But the reduction of 800 something hotel rooms (approx 2% of the total number of hotel rooms) in Hong Kong Island will definitely result in a price increase for consumers.

If you are seeking a luxury hotel property, you still have the choice of two Mandarin Oriental situated just streets apart in Central District. The brand new St. Regis Hong Kong is also opening in Hong Kong in 10 days time, on 12th April in Wanchai District. So you still have plenty of options to choose from. I personally do not recommend the Four Seasons as you may get abducted while staying there.

You won’t see the building of The Excelsior just disappear overnight, however, as it will take five to six years for the building to be torn down slowly. You will still see the 37-storey building standing by Victoria Harbour, it will probably be covered by scaffoldings and less the bustling scene and the lights in the evenings.

Goner: You won’t see these lights lighting up again after The Excelsior unplugged all the lights for the final time.
Something to Takeaway: These souvenirs are a great keeper from the final night. They were placed in each guest room for the final few nights before the closure. Pretty sure it’s limited-edition only.

I was not born or raised in Hong Kong. My family and I did not have three meals a week at The Excelsior. I am not one of those that made The Excelsior’s history but last Saturday night I went to experience the final piece of that history. As heritage and culture make way for business decisions in this ever-evolving world, what are we losing in the process? It is worth a thought, but just a thought. The world will never wait for stagnation, it constantly seeks to evolve and recreate. I just hope that whatever we are creating on top of the rubbles of the past, is something better, grander, and something that is never to forget.

HT: South China Morning Post, The Excelsior Hong Kong 

(All media in this post belongs to the writer unless otherwise stated. Any reuse or production of the said materials requires prior consent by the writer.)

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