Imperial work of art

The Prague Post

Historic Old Town hotel restored to former glory

Majestic. Regal. Imperial.

All are adjectives that describe aristocratic mastery. And all are worthy descriptions of the newly reopened Imperial Hotel, which lives up to its name with a bold combination of Egyptian motifs and five-star luxury.

This isn’t your typical Prague — or, for that matter designer — hotel. Mosaic goddesses sit regally along the entryway. To the left is the beautifully resorted Imperial Café; to the right is a small lobby. While the lobby and other spaces are royal, there’s nothing ostentatious about the Imperial. Some elements, like the gazebo over the reception desk, are startling, but somehow they all manage to remain understated. Shades of gold dominate throughout. This is most prevalent in the lobby where the heavy curtains, furnishings and patterned wallpaper all sport a version of the color. The ceiling is an interesting mango color, an example of how the design seems nearly to drift toward a lighter, more fun feeling but is in no way insulting or out of place.

Originally built as a hotel in 1914, the building didn’t undergo its first major renovation until the following century. Shut down in November of 2005 and reopened in August 2007, reconstruction took four months longer than planned, according to Lukáš Klak, the Imperial’s general manager.

“We added air conditioning, rewired, new plumbing and added bathrooms to all the rooms,” he explains. “The lobby is brand-new. The outside structure is still the same.”

Historically listed by the city of Prague, there was a limit as to what could be changed about the building under local preservation laws. However, with the exception of the outside facade and a couple of interior features that were off limits, most of what the architects and designers wanted got done.

Structurally, though, the building presented a few challenges.

“The ceilings weren’t strong enough to handle the marble we wanted to put in the bathrooms,” Klak notes. “This has been the experience of my life so far.”

One of the jewels of the hotel is its café. The majority of it is original.

“It was still in good condition,” Klak says. “We fixed the missing pieces and replaced a lot of the woodwork.”

There are two competing elements here — the tiles and the windows. Blue and white tiles dominate the look while large windows on both sides allow for light, and, along with the high ceilings, make for an airy feel. The Egyptian theme is again in full force. Marble tables, bronze highlights, an open bar, cakes on display all contribute to a “typical” café feel.

“This is like a street coffee shop,” Klak says. “We are here for the public; we are not a five-star coffee shop. Most of our customers aren’t from the hotel, and that’s the way we want it.”

Indeed, the café has its own entrance from the side, making it difficult to even realize it’s part of the hotel.

“This place is different, there’s nothing like it in Prague,” Klak says.

Other unique elements can be found in some surprising spots. The meeting room boasts a huge skylight, and the break room, conveniently adjacent to the café, is brilliantly decorated with myriad original blue, red, yellow and green tiles. The carpet nicely matches, and the look is tapered by wooden wainscoting.

The private fitness room, furnished with the latest high-tech workout machines on the market, is also a startling contrast. The wood-paneled room is accented with green molded tiles.
The Imperial has six guest floors, interconnected by the beautiful, original staircase. Strong and square, the railing is a curious combination of brass, black and pale green. The tiles on each landing are also the originals. Strolling down the hallway, the pale yellow walls are barely a backdrop to the massive double doors to each guest room. Made from maple, as is all the furnishing in the guest rooms, they are definitely an imperialistic touch. The rooms themselves are comparatively modest.

Gold is the underlying color here as well. It dominates the bedspreads, curtains and wallpaper but is muted by softer beiges and the green carpeting. An interesting design element, different from most hotel guest rooms, is the artwork. Produced specifically for the Imperial, they are of four simply framed photos grouped pleasantly together on one wall.

The bathrooms look heavy. The Pakistani marble is a swirl of rust, cream, orange and beige hues. One original building element in the guest rooms are the windows. They are the typical double-pane, double-latch square windows popular in many older buildings throughout the city.

The Hotel Imperial is a contrast in look and style. A narrow entryway combined with a small lobby and bar doesn’t exactly scream luxury. But the original elements brought back to life with a regal reconstruction effort definitely make this place a stand out among Prague’s other five-star properties. It’s something Klak, who has spent most of his hospitality career working in chain hotels, realizes and appreciates.

“There’s nothing unified in this building, like at other hotels,” he says. “It’s an Art Deco property — I would say Art Deco at its best.”