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The Regent hotel, witness to Hong Kong history with its stunning harbour views, its time as the InterContinental and rebirth under its original name


And when Patten sailed away on Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia in the early hours of July 1, 1997, having handed Hong Kong back to China, the Regent’s party (tickets were a capitalist HK$2,500 – plus 10 per cent) offered a perfect perspective of the cheers, the tears, the flotilla of boats, the news helicopters, the ceaseless rain …

Harbourside at the Regent Hong Kong. The hotel has always enjoyed unrivalled views of Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour. Photo: Regent Hong Kong
The hotel marked the occasion even-handedly: the celebration on the last night of British rule was followed by another on the first night of China’s return. One Country – Two Parties was the theme, a play on Deng Xiaoping’s one country, two systems constitutional principle for this new era.

Two years later, millennium night at the Regent was marked by One Party – Two Centuries.

On both occasions, favoured guests received special mementos made by Tiffany: a porcelain box in the shape of a star with China’s flag on it to mark Hong Kong’s celestial repositioning and a porcelain box decorated with a golden dragon; the Western date of 2000 was also the Year of the Dragon.

A porcelain box given out as a memento by the Regent hotel to mark the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Photo: Fionnuala McHugh
The Regent has always claimed a special relationship with that beast; after all, the hotel was built on the very spot where Kowloon’s dragons have their morning bathe and, like touchy VIPs, they must be appeased at every opportunity. (As Lynn Grebstad, who handled the hotel’s PR in the 1980s, observed to Time magazine: “No one wants nine irritated dragons stranded in the lobby.”)

By the turn of the century, with its excellent feng shui, the Regent reigned over its patch of shoreline.

When I did a story in May 2000, tracking 24 hours in its life, starting at 3am as housekeeping collected the room-service breakfast orders dangling from each door handle, there was the curious sense of being on an ocean liner, as if some force humming beneath the harbour fuelled the entire enterprise.

A porcelain box given out as a memento by the Regent hotel to mark the new millennium in 2000. Photo: Fionnuala McHugh.
As it happened, on that day, Hong Kong’s then chief executive, and Patten’s successor, Tung Chee-hwa, was to be guest of honour at a banquet in the Regent’s ballroom for the Friends of Hong Kong. It rained heavily for him too.

In fact, the Regent had quietly had its own handover: in August 1992, it had been acquired by Four Seasons Hotels, which retained the name. In June 2001, however, having been sold to Bass Hotels and Resorts, the first Regency era ended and the hotel became – some people uttered the new title with a slight sniff – the InterContinental.

Three months later, the events of September 11 meant that North American guests, who made up half the hotel’s usual clientele, hesitated to fly.

Actor Pierce Brosnan taking a break at the Regent while filming in Hong Kong in 1994. Photo: SCMP

In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome – Sars – arrived and tourists left.

In 2004, the Avenue of Stars – which has nothing to do with the Space Museum, being a Hong Kong version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to entice visitors from the Chinese mainland – was built on a strip of concrete that snaked along the water just beyond the hotel’s windows. Kiosks were placed along it. These played jingly, ear-wormy music all day long.

Revellers at a handover party at the Regent in 1997. Photo: AFP

In 2015, a consortium of investors led by Goodwin Gaw, chairman of Gaw Capital Partners, bought the hotel, which continued to operate under the InterContinental brand.

In 2018, when InterContinental Hotels Group acquired a controlling interest in Regent Hotels & Resorts, it announced it was working with the owners to bring back the Regent name in 2020.
A pandemic intervened but, at last, on a recent November night, the Regent held a red-carpet gala to celebrate its re-rebranding. You could think of it as One Hotel – Two Names. (Yan Toh Heen has also reverted to its original name: Lai Ching Heen.)
The Regent Hong Kong’s grand opening ceremony drinks party on November 8, 2023. Photo: Regent Hong Kong

In the interim, other changes have taken place. The original Regent had been umbilically attached to the old New World Centre, which, in recent years, has morphed into the stupendous K11 Musea. Its vertical garden and the Rosewood Hotel, both owned by New World Development, now rear over the Regent’s swimming pool.

A pessimistic hotelier might worry about competition from the award-winning, superstar Rosewood; an optimist might rejoice at how the eastern end of the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront has gained cachet.
Performers at the Regent Hong Kong’s grand opening ceremony drinks party. Photo: Regent Hong Kong
The new-look rooms no longer have door handles upon which to hang breakfast orders. This is Hong Kong-born, Athens-based designer Chi Wing Lo’s first hotel project and he does not care for handles, nor does he want artworks in the corridors. He believes – a wise approach – that the harbour view itself is the painting and so there is no clutter, no bling, no frills.

The beds and side tables are designed to look as if they are floating and the overall effect is soothing – although there is rather a nervous moment climbing into and out of the free-standing bathtub.

This is the subtle luxury of the zeitgeist: a harbourside room costs HK$6,000 (US$770) plus 10 per cent.

Guests watch acrobats at the Regent Hong Kong’s opening ceremony. Photo: Regent Hong Kong

After the gala dinner, guests gathered in the Lobby Lounge to watch a troupe of acrobats batter themselves against the Regent’s windows.

As participants in the “first vertical facade dance in Hong Kong”, the men wore black tie, the women were in red gowns that streamed behind them like flags. They seemed to be pleading to be let in: they pressed their hands and feet high against the glass in a strangely eroticised frenzy. Hong Kong Island winked steadfastly behind them.

The following morning, over Harbourside’s unfailingly delicious breakfast, the hotel’s window cleaners were already at work on a cherry picker, wiping away the footprints of yesterday, getting ready for the next party.

Article was originally published from here

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