Continuing our look at Warsaw’s historic hotels, join us as we travel back in time to learn the story of the Bristol…
Celebrating her 120th birthday last year, few hotels can match the story of the Bristol. Named so after the Earl of Bristol, a famously extravagant and worldly 18th century traveler, this Warsaw legend welcomed its first guest on November 19th, 1901.
Reportedly arriving from Paris, Emilia Finot crossed the threshold to be greeted by the hotel’s GM, a man history remembers only by the surname of Helbling.
Setting a groundbreaking standard, she was whisked on a tour of a hotel that contained thrills such as central heating, double ventilation and a staggering six telephone lines.
The star attraction though was a crystal lift, a contraption deemed so exotic that the hotel hired an attendant to make sure that users didn’t faint with excitement. The press corps, who had queued rowdily on the stairwell for their preview, wrote of little else than this “fairy tale carriage”.
Mirroring Poland’s own inter-bellum golden age, the Bristol too enjoyed the 20s and 30s to the max. It was then that Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski chaired his first government meeting inside the hotel, thereby giving birth to modern Polish democracy in the process.
In fact, such was his liking of the property, he took a suite here that today has been preserved as a nationally protected monument. More than just an object of historic curiosity, today it doubles as the hotel’s most prestigious suite.
Famed for its lavish social events, the Bristol also saw its fair share of drama – when Józef Piłsudski announced his retirement from politics, it was in the Bristol’s hallowed halls. Though never destroyed during the war, a fact owing to the favor it found with German high command (one section became the HQ of the Chief of the Warsaw District), peacetime found the Bristol looking apologetic.
Still, the first couple of decades saw no shortage of VIP custom, and of those to traipse through the entrance were Marlene Dietrich, Pablo Picasso and JFK. But with investment lacking, the hotel was closed in 1981 and only revived once Communism fell. Purchased by the Forte Group, an extensive renovation was undertaken and the hotel was reopened by Margaret Thatcher in 1993.
Signaling a return to the good times, the hotel became a bi-word for quality, a fact highlighted by the visitors it would attract in the ensuing years: Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Sophia Loren and Woody Allen to name but a few.
Famously, when George Bush arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to give a speech, it was one of the hotel’s concierge staff that came to the rescue when it was realized that the President had left his coat in Berlin. Rushing to his aid, an overcoat belonging to a concierge was delivered just in the nick of time by the Bristol’s head of operations.
Rated as one of the most famous hotels in Central Eastern Europe, today the Bristol continues to evolve mixing its powerful sense of history with the modern day demands of the five star traveler.
(Images: NAC & Polona.pl)