Monday, February 24, 2014

Experience History at the Manila Hotel

Ernest Hemingway once said "it's a good story if it's like Manila Hotel." And the Grand Dame has countless stories to tell from its glorious past, with even more stories still to unfold... 

There is probably no other structure in old Manila that can equal the heritage and old world elegance of the Manila Hotel. And for over a hundred years, the Grand Dame continues to fascinate and inspire with its rich history for an experience unique to Manila Hotel.

The oldest five-star hotel in the country, the Manila Hotel remains an iconic landmark and one of Manila's  jewels. Formally opened on July 4, 1912, the Grand Dame witnessed key milestones in the country's history. From the era of rapid progress and modernization ushered by the colonial period, to the epic battles of the second world war, all the way to the turbulent sixties and seventies, the Manila Hotel has weathered the test of time, with grace and style that can only come from the Grand Dame. 

When William Howard Taft was appointed head of the Philippine Commission by President William Mckinley in 1900, he envisioned a grand hotel as part of the massive transformation in Manila's modernization. The task was assigned to Daniel Hudson Burnham, an architect and city planner, who proposed a long and wide tree-lined boulevard along Manila Bay with a park and a majestic structure at one end as part of the city's urban planning. Today, the skyline continues to transform with new structures and development, but the Grand Dame remains as majestic as the day it opened in 1912.

Designed by William E. Parsons, a noted New York architect, the Manila Hotel's classic lines follows the California mission style, but on a much grander scale. The immaculate white facade gives the Grand Dame an ethereal glow, revealing the iconic landmark's graceful and majestic lines. With panoramic views of Manila Bay and its famed sunsets and the historic walled city of Intramuros, the Manila Hotel is definitely the place to stay.

Inside Manila Hotel, one is transported back in time, as the Grand Dame showcases her elegant marble floors and columns, capped by an impressive and ornate ceiling lined with chandeliers. This old world charm and elegance is further enhanced by the traditional whites worn by the hotel staff, with matching white gloves.

Classic furniture remind you of the Grand Dame's rich history, lovingly preserved or recreated. And one can find even more reminders from the past as one walks through the lobby or elegant hallways, thoughtfully integrated with modern amenities.

The Manila Hotel promises a unique chain of experiences, starting from the driveway as your car door is opened, one is then greeted by the hotel staff as you enter the hotel, all the way to the lobby, front desk or one of Manila Hotel's dining establishments. This chain of experiences is the Grand Dame's way of welcoming visitors, experiences which translate to fond memories that will long be remembered. To celebrate the Manila Hotel's heritage and history, the hotel staff will be dressed in traditional attire from the colonial period to enhance your experience at the Manila Hotel. In fact, the hotel staff will be showcasing different styles for each day of the week, making each visit to the Grand Dame a truly memorable experience.

The impressive lobby greets visitors as they enter the Manila Hotel. And what a sight it is. The elegant chandeliers and the intricate details on the dark narra ceilings, the graceful arches and the polished marble floors complete the experience. Like stepping back in time, one can relive the elegance of the colonial era with just a few steps along the lobby.

The elegant lines of the distinct California mission style continues inside the Manila Hotel, with graceful arches and columns providing not only structural integrity but symmetry and balance, and that old world elegance unique to Manila Hotel. The architectural style is also perfectly suited for the local tropical climate, remaining cool and bright with natural light.

Ornate panels with intricate carvings from the original structure can still be seen in many parts of the hotel, reminders of the Grand Dame's rich past.

Recently, I was part of a group of bloggers invited for a special tour of the Manila Hotel, and it was a good opportunity to revisit the Grand Dame.

The Manila Hotel's Denise Tambuatco, Senior Vice President-Marketing, briefs the group outlining the hotel's history and vision, and a proper perspective before the tour.

First stop, the Honeymoon Suite. The Manila Hotel has more than 500 rooms, with each room elegantly decorated in a classic Filipiniana motif, using indigenous materials like capiz shells, local wood furniture and paintings by local artists. Modern amenities like high-speed wired and wi-fi internet access and LCD TVs keep you connected with the outside world, just in case.

A well-appointed lounge area welcomes guests to the Honeymoon Suite, with a stunning view of the bay.  

And there's more...the Honeymoon Suite also has an elegant spiral staircase leading to a separate lounge area. 

Manila Hotel's iconic MacArthur Suite, which served as the official residence of General Douglas MacArthur, his wife Jean and son Arthur, during the Commonwealth era. Tasked with reorganizing the Philippine Army, the MacArthur Suite not only served as his official residence, but also as the General's HQ and command post during the outbreak of the World War II (for more on the historic MacArthur Suite, see my post here at

The Grand Dame also has equally iconic dining establishments that for generations, offered the best of Manila. Like the Champagne Room, classic French cuisine under intricate crystal palm trees and tasseled ceiling fixtures, an appropriate setting for one of Manila Hotel's renowned dining establishments. Floral upholstered chairs, fine china and silver, excellent service and impressive range of indulgent dishes complete the experience. 

The Mabuhay Lounge, the hotel's premier fine dining Cantonese restaurant, with its distinct palette of bright red, orange and gold tones complementing the hand-crafted panels made of jade and precious stones. Elegant neo-classical interiors combined with authentic Cantonese cuisine add to another memorable dining experience at the Manila Hotel.

The new Cafe Ilang-Ilang has been updated, combining contemporary yet elegant casual chic with the widest selection of dishes, all in one place. Redesigned and expanded, the new Cafe Ilang-Ilang is now noticeably much larger and brighter. As a result, the Manila Hotel's other iconic establishment, the Cowrie Grill, had to be relocated off-premise. Loyal diners of Cowrie Grill need not worry, the flair and signature table-side preparations of salads and desserts, a signature of the Cowrie Grill, along with the premium prime rib and seafood dishes, remain uncompromised in its new location (for more on Manila Hotel's iconic Cowrie Grill, check out my previous post here at

An intimate meal, or a meal with family and large groups, Cafe Ilang-Ilang can handle both with ease. Modern, contemporary and casual with a cool vibe, Cafe Ilang-Ilang is a gateway to the world's many flavors.

With fourteen food stations, a meal at Cafe Ilang-Ilang offers guests a taste and gastronomic tour of the world. Various open kitchens and eight live cooking stations offer a diverse range of cuisines, from Asian, Mediterranean, European, and Western dishes to Filipino favorites. A Churrasco station, serving prime cuts of grilled meats and a Sushi station with the freshest seafood are just some of the highlights of Cafe Ilang-Ilang.

And don't forget Cafe Ilang-Ilang's dessert station with its indulgent and wide selection of desserts to cap your meal.

Cafe Ilang-Ilang also has a sugar-free dessert station, allowing you to indulge without the guilt.

At Cafe Ilang-Ilang's Pizza Station, the chefs prepared their signature Pizza Manila Hotel, freshly prepared and hand-tossed pizza dough topped with mozzarella, kesong puti (a local white cheese made from carabao's milk), chorizo, and black olives, baked in a traditional brick oven.

I even got the chance to create my own version of the signature Pizza Manila Hotel, now how cool is that? And after a few minutes in the brick oven, it was ready, just in time to catch the famed Manila Bay sunset (see more on the sunset by the bay and the perfect vantage point from the Manila Hotel here at

A lot has changed since the Manila Hotel opened more than a hundred years ago. But then again, little has changed. Manila Hotel's chain of experiences, old world elegance, history and heritage, and world-class service and standards remain constant. And you can definitely expect more good things from the Manila Hotel in the next hundred years.

A true Filipino landmark, the legendary Manila Hotel represents the very best of Manila. Relive history at the Manila Hotel in your next visit, and leave with even more awesome memories. 

Manila Hotel is located at One Rizal Park, 0913, Manila or call 527-0011 for inquiries.

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  1. Manila Hotel is just about five minutes of driving away from our home yet we have never entered this hotel haha. It's good to see what's inside via this post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. hey Roch, you should give the Grand Dame a visit, try catching the sunset by Manila Hotel's view deck, it's pretty cool. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Gosh! JR's words are so true. Your photos are drop dead gorgeous I'm drooling over them. Haha! :D

  3. hotels in manila history experience i love to go there ^^


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