Having previously explored the stories behind the Bristol and Europejski, this time, join us for a look at the colorful history of one more Warsaw institution: the Polonia Palace…
Hints as to how majestic Warsaw once looked can be found on that stretch of Jerzolimskie that runs from Rondo Dmowskiego to Emili Plater street – scanning the buildings that line this route, it’s easy to understand why Warsaw was once known as the ‘Paris of the East’. But imperious as these structures are, none look as grand as the Polonia Palace Hotel.
Opened on the 14th of July, 1913, it’s name was no accident. Founded at a time when Poland still fell under Tsarist rule, its title was picked by the hotel’s founder, Konstanty G. Przeździecki, to remind the citizens of Warsaw that Poland “should always exist in the heart and mind”.
From the outset, it was quite a hotel. Though competing against heavyweights such as the Bristol and Europejski, it offered modern conveniences the likes of which were unavailable in rival hotels: among these trimmings, guests had access to typewriters and fireproof deposit boxes. Also offering “transport solutions” to the city’s train stations, it’s location was another big boon.
Located just strides away from the Warsaw-Vienna station, its coordinates ensured a constant footfall of visiting dignitaries, including the King of Afghanistan in 1929. By this time, the hotel was already synonymous with the high life, and 1924 saw the garage converted into a dance hall and ballroom whose artistic director was Ralph Roy, an award-winning dancer from Vienna.
Attracting a string of VIPs, those that gathered for the Polonia’s banquets and balls included Stefan Żeromski, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński and the legendary tenor and actor Jan Kiepura. In 1929, the hotel hosted the first ever Miss Polonia competition, a pageant won by Władysława Kostakówna – passing away in 2001, Kostakówna would later finish runner-up in the Miss Europe contest, before going on to being awarded for courage for her work as an agent during WWII.
Undoubtedly, it was this era that was to prove the most challenging for the hotel. Already hailed for its extensive wine cellar, trendy perfumery, hair salon and chlorine-free laundry service, it was little wonder that it was seconded by the occupying Germans and it became a favorite haunt of visiting officers.
Captured during the Warsaw Uprising, it served as a field hospital and supply center and only survived destruction after loyal staff risked all by returning after the capitulation to lock the hotel down.
It was because of their courage that the Polonia became the only hotel in the city to withstand heavy destruction, and this made it a natural choice for embassies seeking a post-war address in the ruined city center. Most famously of all, it was here where General Eisenhower stayed in 1945 whilst touring the devastated city.
The PRL era saw the Polonia treated well, and in 1953 it hosted a famous diplomatic banquet – attended by Zhou Enlai, the first leader of the People’s Republic of China – during which chefs created dishes such as a horse-drawn carriage made from cold cuts and ‘burning ice cream boats’ that featured batteries and lights inside.
Never short of celebrity custom, the following decades drew visits from legendary footballers such as Zbigniew Boniek, Grzegorz Lato and Jan Tomaszewski (the goalkeeper that thwarted England at Wembley in 1973) not to mention performances by the biggest domestic bands of the time: Czerwone Gitary, Skaldowie and Słowiki.
Temporarily closed at the beginning of the millennium, major restorations occurred in 2004 and 2010, and these have returned the hotel to its standing of yore. Beautiful to explore, it’s a hotel whose history and tradition ring loud and proud.