Turning back time at the new Luneta Hotel
MANILA, Philippines – From an elegant hotel, towering over the small, quaint houses in Manila, to a crumbling structure, shrouded with neglect.
After providing lodging for the society’s elite, foreign dignitaries, officers and men of the merchant marine and the American military during World War II, the hotel went from majestic to abandoned after it closed in 1987.
However, after years of abandonment and neglect, this piece of history along one of Manila’s busiest streets has been saved and restored. It took them 7 years, but the new management behind the Luneta Hotel says it was all worth it.
Looking at the lobby, this writer would have to agree – the arduous process of rebuilding the interior of the hotel and restoring its facade to its former glory paid off. Stepping into the hotel is like traveling back in time and into a small piece of Europe right in the heart of T.M. Kalaw Avenue.
Gilded furniture adorns the lobby from chairs to the lamps and decorations. A marble-top café bar serves fresh coffee made from Hawaiian and Italian beans specially packaged for the hotel at the lobby’s Café Yano.
Dennis Francisco, who heads the beverage department, tells Rappler that their menu is filled with signature coffee concoctions – promising a little something different from your everyday Starbucks or other hotel coffees.
“But it’s not too different that you won’t even recognise it anymore,” Francisco said. “We just make sure that there is a little twist to it to remind you of Luneta Hotel.”
Instead of sprinkling their cappuccino with chocolate powder or cinnamon, Francisco opts for golden sugar to keep the taste of coffee dominant.
The old menu makes a comeback
Speaking of twists, the coffee is not the onlything the hotel is proud of. Foodies are set to enjoy the original, 1918 menu with modern twists added to them.
The hotel originally served turn of the century Filipino-Spanish dishes, some of which are now everyday home-cooked meals for Filipinos. Kare-kare (ox tripe and tail stew, mixed with vegetables and flavoured with peanuts) and Paella (Spanish mixed rice dish) were some of the notable favorites.
Chef Norman Paguio, who heads the hotel’s kitchen, remained mum on how he will be recreating the hotel’s dishes but promises to fuse the old with the new, adding a modern twist to the classics.
He says that the major challenge in recreating the hotel’s menu lies on how simple the dishes in the original menu were. “They are simple dishes so the challenge was how to enhance them and present them in a new way without letting go of tradition.”
He adds that people will have to come and visit on or after June 24 (the hotel’s grand opening date), to see and taste the dishes themselves.
He did reveal, however, how the hotel’s menudo will be reborn – it will now come as a filling inside baked, cylindrical tube-type pasta more commonly known as cannelloni.
The much-awaited dishes will be served at the Café Yano in the ground floor, Ristorante Filomena in the 2nd floor, and Salvatore Lounge on the 6th where Paguio says they will be featuring different kinds of Spanish tapas and carefully curated drinks.
The hotel only has 6 floors, making it a towering structure in the early 1900s. Now, in 2014, the hotel is actually dwarfed by its neighbors.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Luneta Hotel has become obscured from the Manileños’ and tourists’ views.
Its intricately designed French windows, the carvings on the stone fixtures, and its mansard roof still call attention to the building as yellow lights inside are seen through the glass – it is easy enough to imagine men in their neatly pressed suits and stiff hats alongside women in their fancy dresses dining at the small, round tables in the lobby café or talking the night away at the top floor.
Luneta Hotel General Manager Dr. Grace Francisco-Torres says there will be no expansions for the hotel as they want it to stay intimate with its 27 spacious and sophisticated rooms.
Carefully chosen pieces adorn the rooms, along with artworks from Torres’ favorite artists in Malabon.
Crisp white sheets and play great contrast to the brown wood of the pieces of furniture. An old (and still working!) telephone sits on top of a side table. It’s a satisfying mix of cozy and classy.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, was one of the hotel’s first guests, who reportedly liked how the rooms were designed.
While some claim that they have seen otherworldly figures looking out through the windows back when the hotel was still abandoned, the new employees say they have not encountered anything scary up to this point, even when they stay late at night, preparing for the hotel’s grand opening on the 24th, which also falls on Manila Day. It has been recently blessed before the soft opening.
The hotel is considered a historical gem by the National Historical Commission, with a marker placed on the facade, stating its importance.
A Presidential decree also ensures the protection of Luneta Hotel along with other historical landmarks in the Philippines, making their restoration, maintenance, and care mandatory.
By law, the facade can never be altered and though it was well within the hotel owners’ rights to revamp the interior completely, they chose to keep everything that could be saved.
“It was in such a bad state,” Torres said, reminiscing about how the hotel was actually dangerous when they first acquired it with the walls and fixtures crumbling.
Now, every piece of cement is back in place and the fixtures that could not be restored to their original state were turned into something new.
Wrought-iron gates formerly used as doors are now sealed in frosted, textured glass and used as designs within heavy, wooden door frames. Old, colored floor tiles are now used to give life to the walls of the Salvatore lounge.
And as the wide wooden doors of the hotel open polite, smiling faces at the lobby welcome guests and diners, and thank those who have stayed.
Indeed, the old-fashioned, genteel lady of Manila is back and she is here to stay. – Rappler.com
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