Fairlawn Hotel in Calcutta

Picture above shows the front gate of Fairlawn Hotel off Sudder Street in Calcutta. The Fairlawn is a real institution in Calcutta. In fact Sudder Street is also 'an institution'. Sudder Street is where all the backpackers head for and it's full of budget hotels, guest houses and lodgings. The street runs down the side of the National Museum from Chowringhee Road down to the Fire Brigade Heaquarters at the junction of Free School Lane (or Mizra Ghalib Street as now known). Sudder Street feels different, you don't see any of the 60s and 70s style backpackers any more but the street does have a certain atmosphere. As you go down Sudder Street you could turn left on to Madge Lane or a bit further down on to Hartford Lane and find yourself decanted straight into the chaos of New Market (previously The Sir Stuart Hogg Market)

The Fairlawn Heritage Hotel.

The Colonial Fairlawn is a Calcutta institution and an eccentric family-run hotel owned and managed by Violet Smith since the 1960s. Violet inherited the hotel from her mother and it has been in the family for several generations. The family were Armenians but it is clear they were also committed Anglophiles and Violet in particular was very proud of the hotel's colonial past and enthusiastic about all things British. Violet was known in Calcutta as The Duchess of Sudder Street, she passed away in September 2014.

On the walls there are pictures of notable Brits, celebrities and minor royalty.

The English actors Geoffrey and Laura Kendal, who played in a touring theatre company, stayed two years in the hotel in 1950s and pretty much became family. We are told that sometimes, they earned their lodging by performing plays on the first floor of the hotel.

Pictures of Cliff Richard are here and there. It's possible he visited the hotel during the time that his father was manager of the refreshment rooms at Howrah Railway station in the 1940s.Other more recent fans of the hotel include Michael Palin, the late Patrick Swayze, the actress Julie Christie and the musician Sting. Felicity Kendal was a visitor and great friend of Violet. In her BBC documentary 'India, Shakespeare and Me', there is a scene where she returns to the Fairlawn and meets with Violet.

The hotel is unchanged from the 1920s. OK, holes have been knocked in the walls to take air conditioners. Shelves have been put in the rooms to take small TVs. The reception, lobby and restaurant are open to the outside with ceiling fans everywhere which the staff adjust according to where you choose to sit. The rooms on the ground floor are accessed directly from the left and right walls of the restaurant, and those on the first floor directly from the left and right of the main lounge.

Below picture from inside the gate area looking into reception, lobby and and dining area. Open porches and verandas are a feature of Bengali buildings.

Below picture from inside dining area looking out to lobby and reception area.

Below picture of the upstairs lounge.see the guest room doors behind the curtains left and right

Below picture from the open veranda on the first floor.

Below picture from first floor veranda looking to Sudder Street.

Below picture down the stairs.

Violet died in 2014 and now in April 2018 the hotel is finally sold to Elgin Hotels who are going to 'refurbish' it. Many people are hoping it can be left unchanged, but that won't happen. We have seen the Elgin Hotel in Darjeeling and it is very tastefully done as a Raj era heritage hotel. Also, Elgin Hotels Group is associated with the name Oberoi. Brij Raj Oberoi, founder and CEO of Elgin Hotels is the nephew of MS Oberoi who established Oberoi Hotels. BR Oberoi (known as Diamond Oberoi) started in Oberoi Hotels so he knows the business. We have to be optimistic and plan to return to Sudder Street in a year or so to see how they are getting on.

Below picture from just inside the the open front porch looking into reception, lobby and and dining area. We wonder if it will still be an open area after Elgin Hotels renovation. It must have been an interesting place to sit during the July and August rains.

So we went back in April 2019. We are really pleased that we were able to see the Fairlawn ‘as it was’ and we are pleased with the way it is now.

It's still the Fairlawn. The refurbishment has been exactly right and has been done with full respect for the character and history of the Fairlawn Hotel. We are sure that Violet Smith would approve. The improvements are everything that was necessary and nothing more. Diamond Oberoi and his wife have done an excellent job. The Fairlawn has landed in the right ownership.

Below picture looking into reception, lobby and and dining area. The Green paint is gone and its now much brighter.

Below picture the entrance from street showing the refurbished tea garden to the right.

The upstairs lounge refurbished and brightened up.

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