Story by Michelle Hopkins
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — If the walls of the Bengal Lounge could talk, oh, what tales they could recount.
After more than six decades, the iconic Bengal Lounge, which served up some of the best martinis in Victoria, along with a great dose of romance and charm, shut its doors on April 30. It will re-open in the fall but only for private functions such as weddings and corporate events.
“It was time for a change,” says new Fairmont Empress general manager Indu Brar as she took a group of journalists for a tour of the ongoing renovations and for a last hooray to the landmark lounge. “I like to say it’s not a renovation but rather a transformation.”
So where will hotel patrons dine now?
The dining room, adjacent to the Bengal Lounge, is getting a facelift to the tune of $30 million to breathe new life into the iconic luxury hotel’s restaurant options. It will re-emerge as the Q Lounge on the harbour-view side, complete with an expansive white marble bar and purple undertones in the furnishing (again, an ode to British royalty), and the Q Restaurant on the right side.
On the day of the tour, there was a lot going on. The wood floors have been refinished on both sides, the historic light fixtures given a good buffing and shine. In addition, with the removal of the heavy drapes, the stained-glass windows are letting in a lot more natural light, creating a gorgeous airy, bright lounge.
“Q stands for the new generation of British royalty … think Will and Kate in the restaurant and cheeky and fun Harry in the lounge,” adds Brar, as we sipped on the new cocktail aptly named the 1908 in honour of when the Fairmont Empress opened. “The new menu will feature the best of Pacific northwest cuisine, with a strong seafood focus.”
The carte du jour will also be heavily focussed on the wares of local purveyors, while the bar will serve a unique selection of new cocktails seven days a week.
Brar promises that guests will experience a fusion of the magnificent décor that makes the Empress so impressive with a contemporary twist. Reservations for the Q Restaurant will start on June 1.
“This is only the beginning of many more changes to come at the Empress,” she adds. “All of the rooms, the spa, tea room and the lobby are getting facelifts as well.”
Walk Down Memory Lane
Drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, the 3,000-square-foot colonial-inspired Bengal Lounge drew politicians, dignitaries, celebrities and visitors from around the world for its authentic curry buffet and signature cocktail menu.
It was originally built in 1912 as a reading and writing room until 1954 when it was reinvented as Victoria’s first cocktail lounge, dubbed the Coronet Lounge.
Less than 15 years later, it was slated to become a men’s-only English-style bar. Well, don’t you wonder how that sat with the ladies? Anyway, I digress …
Well, the hotel rethought that idea and it morphed into the Bengal Lounge. The Indian-themed bar — with a Bengal tiger skin on the wall (a gift from the King and Queen of Siam when they visited the hotel in the late 1940s), and where waiters in Nehru jackets dished up curries and cocktails such as the Bombay Stinger and Bengal Tiger — soon became a hit.
The closing of the Bengal does indeed mark the end of an era. I, for one, have wonderful memories of dining here. Alas, like all good things they do come to an end.
More About the Fairmont Empress
Location: 721 Government Street, Victoria, BC
Reservations: Telephone 1-866-540-4429 or book online at the hotel’s website. Room rates for a weekend night in June cost approximately $420, based on a research search on the hotel’s online booking engine.
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