reviewer ania wroblewska
Inside the bright marble lobby of the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw, just to the left of the entrance, there's a large bronze bust of pianist (and later, Prime Minister) Jan Paderewski, which gleams along the collarbone where guests to the hotel have rubbed their fingers. The Bristol was originally the brainchild of Paderewski and his financial partners, who decided to build a grand hotel in Warsaw that would rival the other high-end hotels of western Europe—in a Neo-Renaissance design and with all the latest amenities—towards the end of the nineteenth century.
When Hotel Bristol opened its doors to guests in 1901, it was just that: modern, luxurious, and stately, with marble throughout and some of its interiors designed by the noted Viennese architect Otto Wagner. Soon, however, the history of the hotel became intertwined with the difficult history of Poland—after the end of the First World War, and after Poland gained its independence in 1919, Paderewski became the prime minister and held the first session of his government at his hotel. Then, just two decades later, the hotel was turned into the headquarters of the Nazi Chief of the Warsaw District during the Second World War and, by a stroke of luck, survived the methodical destruction of the city by the retreating German military in 1944.
After the war, the hotel—like the rest of the nation's businesses—was nationalized in 1947 and, for the next forty-two years, was managed by the Communist party's tourism board, Orbis. During this time, it almost exclusively served tourists from abroad who could afford to pay the exorbitant prices in foreign currency (and not in the then-nearly worthless Polish złoty). Yet, by 1981, Hotel Bristol's facilities were considered outdated and the hotel was forced to close, as no one was willing to undertake the costly remodeling project.
After the fall of the communist government in 1989, construction began to bring the Hotel Bristol back to its former glory, with the original interiors of the public rooms recreated to match the 1901 designs. When the hotel was finally reopened in 1993, it was to great fanfare (and with Margaret Thatcher present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony). Today, the Hotel Bristol is one of the most luxurious hotels in Poland—a five star hotel and part of the Starwood Resort Luxury Collection—and remains a symbol of strength and pride for all Polish people.
hotel name & website: Hotel Bristol Warsaw
who: My boyfriend and I
why: I grew up in Poland, and have memories of the times when my parents (and almost all other Poles) had to stand in long lines for everything, from chocolate and meat to toilet paper or even furniture. Staying in nice hotels or eating out in restaurants was a luxury, one afforded only by Communist party officials or foreign tourists.
I often visited Warsaw with my father, and loved going to the Stare Miasto (the picturesque “Old Town”) to look at the colorful townhomes. We would walk by the Hotel Bristol, and I would dream of stepping into the majestic lobby even for a minute. At the time, the hotel was an institution and exemplified the unreachable for most Polish people: luxury and freedom from the drab reality of living under Communism. Since it was once my dream to stay in the hotel as a guest, I decided that the time was finally right to make a reservation.
when: December 2014
stay: Check in was a breeze and we were given a nice, albeit small, room with a killer view of the Presidential Palace (which is right next door)—so we were able to watch the changing of the guard the next day at noon right from our windows.
location: The hotel is smack in the middle of the action—situated on the Royal Route, it is a few feet away from Stare Miasto and the Royal Palace, Nowy Swiat Street (where you go to shop and be seen), as well as the National Theater and the Opera House. It is also right next to the Presidential Palace. I mean, right next to the Palace.
rooms: We stayed in one of the Classic Rooms, which was well-appointed with a comfortable bed with high quality linens, mahogany-framed windows, LED TVs, a minibar, and a mini-seating area. The bathroom was a marble extension of the expensive lobby and was quite comfortable (it even had a scale), although a little small in size. Room prices are very affordable, considering that it is a luxury hotel.
pool/gym/beach status: The hotel has a decently equipped gym with the usual suspects of cardio equipment as well as free weights, exercise balls, and yoga mats.
food situation (mini bar, breakfast, restaurant): There are two restaurants at the Bristol: the elegant Marconi Restaurant and a smart, casual “Viennese style” Café Bristol. A must-try are the “Mick Jagger Perogis,” which became part of the menu after Mick Jagger requested them when staying at the Hotel Bristol. Although they weren't on the menu at the time, Jagger was told that, when in Warsaw, he must have some sauerkraut and mushroom pierogis. So, the chef gladly prepared the Polish specialty for Jagger, and they have been featured on the menu since then.
bar: The hotel has two bars: the Bristol Wine Bar, home to an extensive wine collection served by the glass or bottle, and the Column Bar, an Art Nouveau space known for its cocktails.
data: 45 PLN ($12) per day. Free for SPG members.
vibes: Old World charm.
kiddie agreeable: Yes.
specialty: Gallant Luxury.
price scale: Poland is still mostly an up-and-coming destination, thus overall hotel prices in Warsaw are affordable when compared to other European capitals. Hotel Bristol's prices are on par with those at other big chain hotels, such as the Westin or Hyatt.