Being serenaded with a fine rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic ballad, ‘Suzanne,’ is hardly what one expects upon entering a hotel lobby but that was the lovely surprise provided by friendly reception desk leader and talented musician Jesus Alario del Olmo, a 35-year veteran of Berlin’s Kempinski Hotel Bristol.
And thus started a most enjoyable two-night stay in the oldest of the historic group’s many diverse luxury properties worldwide.
Well located on the corner of Kurfurstendamm and Fasanenstrasse, a brightly-decorated Christmas tree in the center of the spacious foyer greets one, complementing a gleaming marble floor and varnished wood pillars. Nearby is the cozy, Venetian-style, 61-seat Bristol bar with cocktails and live music, alongside which is a line of chic clothing and accessory shops with tantalizing displays of jewelry and shoes behind glass.
The hotel itself is composed of 301 rooms, including 55 suites, in an 11-floor tower plus another six floors in a second section. The suites include the art deco-style 200 square meter ‘Presidential’ on the 11th floor with panoramic views over Berlin and the ‘Kudamm’ overlooking the busy thoroughfare of Kurfurstendamm.
Our room, 549, a deluxe business suite, was located in the tower section, the newest wing of the hotel. Classic in style, it features a light-colored décor, the carpet being sandy in color with black stripes through it, complemented by gold-colored curtains. Furnishings are of dark wood and include a leather sofa, a desk, armchair and two TVs, one of which was in the bedroom. Adding a sense of living history, the walls are decorated with black and white photographs of key events in Berlin, such as the visit of former US President John F Kennedy, as well as social images such as those of children at play. With double, probably treble, glazing, no street sounds interrupted our sleep, which was enhanced by a comprehensive pillow menu catering to all needs and a Tempur mattress.
Kempinski Hotels, with a history of more than 110 years as a luxury hotel group, owes its origins to Berthold Kempinski, a successful wine merchant and restaurateur, his wife, Helena, and their son-in-law, Richard Unger, the latter opening the hotel in 1951, later selling his shares and the name Kempinski to the ‘Hotelbetriebs-Aktiengesellschaft.’ The Bristol, the first Kempinski hotel in the group, symbolized the rejuvenation of post-War Berlin itself. In a nod to nostalgia, Ricarda Inen, our helpful bell-girl, wore a vintage-style hat prevalent among hotel staff many years ago. The Kempinski Hotel Bristol is one of a pair of Kempinski properties by the group in Berlin, the only city where it has two, the other being the Hotel Adlon Kempinski.
Breakfast is served in the ground-floor Reinhard’s restaurant, a popular brasserie-style eatery. With honey-colored wooden shelves, checkered tablecloths and a warm, cozy interior and a terrace, and clear views out over the lively Kurfürstendamm, it offers a most appealing retreat. Surprises await at breakfast, with even a selection of venison sausages, wild pig tapenade and terrine on the comprehensive buffet menu.
Hotel entertainment facilities are extensive. The Bristol, with a cherry-wood bar shaped like a gondola, a Murano glass chandelier and a carpet decorated with 11,000 Venetian flowers, offers live piano music and a wide selection of cocktails including Bristol lemonade, its signature drink of apple juice, ginger and cucumber. Monthly book-readings are also held there.
A spa in the basement area, Roman-style with columns and a mosaic floor, comprises an 18-meter long pool, a Finnish sauna, a steam bath and a cold pool. Massages and cosmetic treatments are also available for a fee. When the tower section was constructed in 1972, officials say the Kempinski Bristol became the first hotel with a pool.
The Kempinski Grill, with capacity for 45 seated, is the hotel’s premier restaurant, with starters ranging from carpaccio of beef filet with goat cheese and grape seed oil to prawn-tuna balls in herbal coating with courgette, bell pepper and dip. Mains are also impressive, from Müritz pike perch to lamb carrée on basil foam.
With such luxury and a convenient downtown location, it is no wonder this historic hotel has welcomed a multitude of well-known visitors, including famed actors Roger Moore and Gary Grant, violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin, singer-actor Sammy Davis Jr., composer-singer Leonard Cohen, recently departed Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, actor and former US President Ronald Reagan, movie director Sir Alfred Hitchcock, and even the Dalai Lama.
All too familiar with luxury, if such A-list celebrities as these enjoyed the Kempinski Hotel Bristol, your stay is likely to be one to remember. Certainly, mine was.