Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai

As Shanghai reaches for the sky and races into the future, the Fairmont Peace Hotel is a refreshing ode to old-school glamour.

The Art Deco landmark was originally erected as the extravagant home of Sir Victor Sassoon, a shipping baron, financier and international playboy who had amassed a princely fortune in the spice (some say opium) trade. When he officially opened it to the public as a hotel in 1929, the 11-story building was the tallest in Shanghai, the city’s first high-rise to boast central air conditioning and elevators. And with the gregarious Sassoon presiding over every lavish detail, his palace became the most decadent party in China—a reputation it maintained for decades.

Alas, every good party comes to an end, and as the Communists took control of Shanghai in 1949, so too went the beloved Peace Hotel. Decades of state governorship sent the property on a downward spiral that continued unabated until 2007 when Fairmont was allowed to come in, close it, and begin a painstaking three-year restoration. Layers of paint were stripped. Stained glass panels were replaced. Marble floors got polished. Twisted wooden banisters and the ballroom’s original spring-loaded dance floor were sanded and restained. The hotel’s 270 rooms now pay tribute to 1920s Shanghai with pristinely restored Deco accents (including claw-foot tubs in the suites) while providing every imaginable modern necessity, from 37-inch plasma TVs to automatic illy espresso machines.???No other hotel boasts a more prestigious address on The Bund. Turndown service comes with a bedside stash of jasmine tea and a classic jazz CD gently warbling on the Bose stereo.   Sassoon’s former apartment now serves as the palatial presidential suite, offering a nearly 360-degree panorama of Shanghai. An annex to the original building houses a destination spa and sky-lit swimming pool.

The old Jazz Bar is back in operation with the same old jazz band that’s played here forever. The average age of the band members is 72, and they’re awesome—a little warbly and sometimes a wee bit off key, like a warped vinyl record that you can’t stop listening to. And the top-floor Chinese restaurant? That’s back, as well, serving some of the finest Shanghainese soup dumplings in town. Rates from $365, 866.940.4914.

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