A Tale of Two Hotels

The Kowloon and Canton Railroad used to end at the Star Ferry.  Salisbury Road ran east along the water and on Salisbury Road two hotels went up to serve the rail customer.  The Peninsula or (The Pen) was, in its day, considered the finest hotel in the world.  It sired a whole chain of Peninsulas around the Orient.  It was known for its fleet of green Rolls Royce cars that ferried its clients around Kowloon, in the 80s it was usually to the airport.  We, of course, never stayed there although we did duck into the lobby with the kids to spy some colonial grandeur.

Just to the west, a little closer to the Star Ferry was the “Poor Man’s Pen,” (more realistically middle class) the YMCA.  It was affordable, very clean, had an cosmopolitan collection of clients, a big swimming pool, and most importantly family rooms.  We stayed in one of those with the kids, for I think $35.

At the time both hotels looked across Salisbury Road at the waterfront.  When we came back a couple of years later the area in front of the hotels was being filled in for construction of new museums and a planetarium.  The Y had added a high rise behind the original building.  That’s where they put us that trip.  We had a harbor view room but the view required some neck craning.

Twenty nine years later the Y has torn down its original building and now has two towers.  It still has a pool, a gym, exercise equipment a book store and a restaurant.  However the hotel has been restyled as the Salisbury.  It still has the Y logo, but it is rather more upscale.  I walked up to the desk and told the lady that we had stayed there with the kids 30 years ago.  “Could we still afford to stay here now?”

She laughed and said “Probably not.”  Rooms are sold on a “yield management” basis, with prices going up with demand and down when they need to fill rooms.  If we wanted to stay that night a double would be $2,300 HK$ or close to $290 US.  I have no idea what a family room would cost, or even if they have them.  “Location, location, location.”

We walked around the lobby, stopped at the bookstore and then went next door to the Pen for some high tea.  We didn’t do this with the kids.  There was a line and at 2 PM on the dot a quartet (piano, violin, cello and flute) in the balcony over the lobby started to play Tchaikovsky.  By a bout 2:15 we were seated.  The whole process was leisurely.  The little orchestra played a nice combination of café music.  There was some Strauss, some arrangements reminiscent of Stéphane Grappelli and Les Ford, a little Elvis (Wooden Heart) and, to my complete surprise and delight, a little Horace Silver with the cello walking out the baseline of “Song for my Father.”

There was a choice of teas and a three tiered tray.  Scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves are at the bottom, little cucumber or salmon sandwiches with the crusts cut off along with little quiches in the middle, and at the top, some little pastries and chocolate truffles.  It was our indulgence at just under a hundred bucks, but a delightful way to spend part of a rainy Hong Kong afternoon.  After tea we wandered the lobby and arcades as if we belonged there.

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