Old timers recall Kanishka in vivid detail. Off Janpath, the hotel was as much a Delhi landmark as most ITDC properties in the pre-five-star boom days. But since I am not in the veteran league, the only time I deigned to pay the hotel a visit was while chasing Naseeruddin Shah's daughter making her first theatre debut.
The tip-off was that Heba, hush-hush, was putting up at Kanishka, and editor wanted the first bite. In the end, it all turned out to be a rumour. I never got that interview but my abiding memory of that time and place is of a narrow, dingy, sleazy hotel corridor. And above all a musty smell. The 'ITDC smell'.
The smell has since vanished. Kanishka is no longer Kanishka but a swanky new facility, owned by construction major Eros Group, managed and marketed by the Hong Kong- based Shangri-La, Asia Pacific's leading luxury hotel group.
It's a completely revamped property about which the market has not stopped buzzing ever since the tie-up was announced -- sometimes with rumours, including one about a pullout by Shangri-La.
Such speculation should rest now. The property soft launched last month and is to throw its doors open with a more formal bang early November. About 300 rooms (of 323), banqueting facility, a coffee shop, a bar and the city's first outdoor jacuzzi pool (under a tree) are operational. A signature pan Asian restaurant and spa are on the anvil; just about the right time for a dekho as to what all the fuss is about.
If you've been driving around Connaught Place past sundown, you'd have seen the lights. The opulent chandeliers in the lobby do make an impression. The lights are very expensive and very special.
So much so that when the earthquake struck, the first reaction of the affable general manager Gilbert Jung, Shangri-La's top rep in India, was "Are the chandeliers still there?"
The hotel has inherited a severe design challenge by way of its original structure, the towers, which could not be changed or demolished under legal provisions. But Jung promises that the entire building -- apart from being scraped and buffed -- has also been fortified. Earthquakes and such hold no terrors now.
On the other hand, because of the original construction, you may find the size of the rooms a little small. Just about 28 sq metres as opposed to 35-40 sq metres at flagship Shangri-La properties elsewhere -- "the bathrooms there would be the size of the rooms here", Jung confesses. The team has done its best though. The wall between the bathroom and room, for instance, has been demolished and replaced with glass, and flatscreen and plasma TVs adorn each room in order to give a sense of space.
The best thing here is the tea lounge, offering an extensive selection of teas (147) and coffees (single origin), not to be found anywhere else in the city. The talking point here -- and a bit of an in-house joke, I suspect -- is the outrageously priced Kopi Luvac; Rs 850 per cup, the beans ingested, digested and excreted by a cat before they are roasted and powdered for your cuppa.
The coffee shop, on the other hand, is focusing on buffets (both lunch and dinner) and for prices in the range of Rs 1,000 you can get an excellent selection of salads (with fresh seafood also on display) and desserts apart from main course dishes.Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are popular barbeque evenings by the poolside. Jung, an old hand at opening/revamping Shangri-Las around Asia, after all, loves to throw this one at his employees: "Keep the bodies in beds and bums in chairs." So be it.