Most major cities in Asia have one stand out classic luxury hotel. Singapore has the Raffles, Bangkok has the Oriental, Hong Kong has the Peninsula, Rangoon has the Strand and Penang has the Eastern & Oriental.
And Kuala Lumpur has … um, well nothing really!
The old colonial hotels of a century ago, The Grand Oriental and the Empire, have long since closed down and been demolished.
Even the Station Hotel, which once was a convenient and quality place to stay, saw a steady decline in fortunes and, for a time, served as the Heritage backpackers’ hostel before closing its doors.
That is not to say that there are no fine hotels in KL. The Mandarin Oriental and the Shangri-La for instance, are luxurious five-star hotels of the highest quality.
But they are both modern tower blocks and lack the classic elegance, colonial ambiance and glorious history of the other famous names.
Kuala Lumpur does have the Carcosa Seri Negara, a former colonial mansion with a very distinguished past, but with only five suites, it is very much a small boutique property rather than a proper full-service hotel.
So KL was lacking its own stately luxury hotel … until the reopening, after a gap of 28 years, of the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
The Majestic was built in 1932 on a site facing KL’s famous old moghul-style railway station. The German Consul’s official residence and gardens used to occupy this plot until World War 1.
The hotel soon became the top hotel in town and hosted many swanky parties and glamorous wedding receptions.
Famous actors, singers, artists and writers used to stay here.
During World War 2, the hotel suffered like everywhere else. A Japanese soldier committed suicide in Room 48 upon learning of his nation’s defeat. His ghost was reportedly seen staring out of the room window by railway workers in the building opposite for years afterwards.
Umno used to hold some of its early party meetings in the hotel as they planned Malaya’s path towards independence from Britain. One of Umno’s leading lights, Dato’ Onn, announced his resignation from the party at the Roof Garden of the hotel on August 25, 1951.
In the years that followed, the Majestic gradually lost its lustre and closed down in 1983. From 1984 to 1998 the building served as the National Art Gallery, and then remained unoccupied for many years.
Fortunately for Malaysia’s heritage, the YTL group undertook a major, no-expense-spared refurbishment project to restore the original building (now called the Majestic Wing) to its former glory while adding an additional accommodation block (called the Tower Wing).
The hotel reopened for business in Dec 2012.
Apart from the Contango, the other main restaurant is the Colonial Café where the menu includes traditional British fare like Old-Fashioned Faggots and Spotted Dick, as well as Malaysian, Asian and international favourites.
The hotel’s main bar is located here serving wonderful cocktails like the Malayan Colada and Gin Pahit.
A separate annex is set aside for smokers with its own bar, a pool table, private dining room, a card room and a cigar lounge. They also have a screening room which is a mini-cinema with comfy armchairs.
A unique feature of the hotel is the Orchid Conservatory with its beautiful selection of orchids.
There is also a Drawing Room and a Reading Room which both look wonderful.
As you would expect of a hotel of this standard, they have a luxurious spa with its own swimming pool overlooking the railway station. There is another swimming pool for hotel guests.
The location of the hotel however is not ideal as KL’s centre of gravity has shifted in recent decades to the KLCC-Bukit Bintang area. It does not help that the hotel is surrounded by busy highways that are not pedestrian friendly.
Having said that, it is within walking distance of top tourist attractions like the Old Railway Station, the State Mosque, the Islamic Arts Museum, Police Museum and, somewhat further, the Lake Gardens.
The hotel provides shuttle buses (or “luxury coaches” as the hotel calls them) for guests to KL Sentral and Starhill Gallery (Bukit Bintang), so getting around should not be a problem.
The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur
5, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin
50000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2785 8000
Fax: 03 2785 8080
This article first appeared in malaysia-traveller.com