The venue for my Kolkata book launch is the Oxford Bookstore. It’s a lovely, quiet bookstore, all dark wood and shelf upon shelf of books. There’s a tea room, called the Cha Bar, on the first floor, and there are large mural-size black and white photos of people, books, and tea. The Oxford Bookstore is nearly a hundred years old (it was set up in 1920), and it’s perfect for a book event.
And The Park is perfect to stay in when in Kolkata. The hotel is right next door—literally, since you get out one door, turn right and get in at the next door—to the Oxford Bookstore. We don’t get much chance to see the exterior of the hotel: the cab we’re in whisks us into the covered parking lot before we can even think of glancing up at the façade of the building. From the minuscule parking lot, we step into a grey-and-black lobby, small but stylish in a part subdued-part bling way. The floor is black (marble? I’m not sure), the upholstery on the sofas is a very dull purple, and the Henry Moore-ish sculpture looming behind one end of the reception counter looks as if it’s made of rhinestones dipped in silver. The effect is surprisingly pleasing—and this from someone whose tastes are pretty conservative.
We’ve booked two single rooms, and that too nearly a week in advance. Despite that, the receptionist says only one room is ready; the other will be clean after an hour. Very sorry, but that’s how it is. We decide to while away the time by having a cup of tea in the coffee shop. The coffee shop, which is upstairs, is beautifully airy, with lots of natural light which sets off the orange-and-red tones of the walls. We’ve been up since well before dawn, so sip gratefully at our tea. Even though we take our time over it, 45 minutes later, when we check back at reception, the room’s still not ready.
Miffed, we take ourselves off to the Oxford Bookstore for a meeting. When we finally return an hour later, the room’s ready. Hallelujah!
But there’s a but here. Though the room’s cleaned and ready, they don’t have a key for it. Huh?? Yes, says the receptionist a little sheepishly. The rooms have recently been renovated, and new doors with electronic locks have been fitted—but the key cards for them haven’t yet arrived. The only key that’ll open the door is the Housekeeper’s master key. A bell boy will accompany me to my room and let me in. Brilliant. This, by the way, will be the routine. Every time I want to enter my room, I’ll need to go to the reception and get a bell boy to get the master key and escort me upstairs. Thank heavens I’m only staying the night.
The room, fortunately, is a pleasure to be in. Like the lobby, it’s mainly black, but with touches of colour: here, deep brick red. It also has its bit of bling: the ‘door’ of the wardrobe consists of a bead curtain, the beads all silvery and shimmery. The comfy bed is almost a double, it’s so large. The room also has a coffee table, sofa chairs, a safe, a mini bar, a writing table and chair, a very large flat screen TV, and a massive lampshade, with a fringe all around: smart. On the wall is a reminder that this is Kolkata: a large traditional Bengali kantha embroidery, depicting a new bride being carried in her palanquin. Lovely!
The bathroom is nice, too: the walls are covered with tiny silver-grey tiles (though some have fallen out near the floor) and the mirror is an interesting backlit lopsided oval. I’m grateful for the abundant amenities—soap, moisturiser, shampoo, etc—and the fact that there’s a hairdryer, but what puts me off a bit is the profusion of full length mirrors inside the bathroom. The WC, for instance, is separated from the rest of the loo by a sliding door that’s mirrored on both sides. Not a pretty sight.
We don’t get the chance to eat any meals at The Park (though breakfast is included in the tariff of Rs 7,000 per night per room), but we discover that though it’s small, the hotel has more than its fair share of eateries. There’s an Indian restaurant called Saffron; an Oriental one called Zen; the coffee shop—officially known as the Atrium Café—a pub and restaurant called Someplace Else; a poolside bar and restaurant called Aqua (yes, kinda predictable), and a cocktail bar and wine club named Roxy. There’s also a nightclub named Tantra. I’m busy marvelling at how they’ve managed to fit all of this into this tiny hotel when I discover that The Park also has a day spa called Aura, as well as a gift shop. And yes, if you thought that was all: they also have laundry facilities, room service, and a Guest Services Desk which can organise everything from a doctor or a babysitter to a courier service or travel services.
I don’t get a chance to use any of these facilities, but Anurima does: the day I leave for Mumbai, she trips on the pavement and falls on her ankle, wrenching it badly. As she later puts it, "I sat outside and howled for 10 minutes before they carried me in." Well, Anurima may be exaggerating about the 10 minutes, but the fact that they actually slapped on a hefty service charge for calling a doctor reeked to me of pure inhumanity. The doctor’s fees are all very well; but a service charge? And that too in an emergency? (It later turns out Anurima’s pulled a ligament)
The Park’s clean and smart, very well located and with most facilities you’d want from a city hotel. I’d have been very happy with it if it hadn’t been for the missing key for my room and the somewhat cavalier treatment they seem to have meted out to Anurima. On the other hand, I found the bell desk staff very solicitous and courteous when I ended up waiting for my cab for over 15 minutes. Just about everyone there exuded a protective sweetness that made me feel comfortable even though, at 4 AM, there were some seedy characters drifting about outside the nightclub. A hotel that can make a lone woman feel safe is worth being given a second chance, I think.