This week I spent a long afternoon being shown round the many nooks and corners of this building that I have intimately known, for work and pleasure, since the 1970s, and being warmly welcomed by the company’s two heirs, Arjun and Vikram Oberoi. So much has changed but not the abiding charm, work ethic, and attention that the owners and their staff of 700 bestow on guests, old and new.
The whole place looks bigger and lighter — it must be the only hotel to reduce the number of rooms and suites from 285 to 220 over eight floors to conform to international standards of space. Its subtle new chic, by leading New York-based hotel designer Adam Tihany, is lifted by unexpected flourishes. The familiar Lutyens-inspired marble fountain in the lobby has been moved; in its place stands a contemporarytorcheres rising after dark. The eight categories of rooms, with quiet references to Delhi’s layered heritage of Mughal, Victorian, Art Deco and Lutyens’ architecture, have bursts of peacock blue wall. High-tech gadgetry has been introduced: Small bedside iPads enable guests to turn off lights, draw curtains, choose room service menus, and inspect who’s outside their door.
All of Delhi — well, almost — is stopping by in the roomier ground floor ThreeSixty Degrees restaurant, from toddlers to elderly ladies in wheelchairs, and troops of visitors being led for a “look-dekho”. In half an hour I spot heart surgeon Naresh Trehan, PR honcho Dilip Cherian, and assorted “politician” types; auction house Saffronart’s promoter Dinesh Vazirani breezes past — “thrilled”, he says, to reopen his art gallery in the basement. “It’s more loungey now. Drop by for a coffee sometime.”
The restaurants, too, have changed: The rooftop Chinese in a new avatar led by Michelin-starred A. Wong of Wilton Road, London; there is a private residents’ lounge; and informal open air dining is the new order, from poolside Korean food to a large rooftop terrace with heating and wind-control sensors and an electronic canopy.
In the cigar lounge, the Oberoi scions explain key primary concerns — safety, especially after the Mumbai attacks, and health standards — behind the mammoth facelift. “We stripped down the hotel completely, doubling the number of fire escapes and putting in new-technology detectors,” says the 51-year-old, tall, white-haired Arjun, who is head of development for the group.
It has been a difficult year for him. Five days before the opening, he lost his remarkable German-born mother, Jutta Oberoi, after a prolonged illness. He pulls out a few sheets to read bits of his tribute at her memorial. “Her karma was Indian,” he says quietly. “She asked for her ashes to be scattered near the Gateway of India, where she first arrived at the age of twelve.”
Vikram, his cousin and “Biki” Oberoi’s son, who is three years younger and the group’s CEO, appears to dispel our sombre mood of mutual remembrance. They completed three hotels in 2017: Near Dubai, in Chandigarh, and The Oberoi, Delhi. He enthuses about the great effort and expense put in to counter Delhi’s grave pollution. “We’ll have cleaner air than in London, and soon as good as Switzerland.”
I leave the brothers exchanging cheerful banter and greeting guests as they see me off at the commodious new revolving door. “It’s good for the next 15 years,” they say of the edifice, the acme of hospitality that their grandfather created half a century ago.