Waldorf Astoria Bangkok’s five-star flow
The world of Waldorf Astoria as seen by Andre Fu is both modern and traditional, Western and subtly South East Asian. Set in a city where the common and the exotic happily co-exist, it is a delightful representation of Bangkok itself.
Bangkok is a modern, busy, chaotic city. The traffic is backed up, malls are busy, markets are bustling. It is then an utter relief to step into the calm, light lobby of the new Waldorf Astoria. As well as welcoming staff, the lower lobby is a haven of pale cool shades, highlighted with contrasting elegant brass work forming art deco screens that separate the seating areas, while allowing the light to flow through.
It is at once both very modern and utterly classic, bringing together elements of the 1930s Waldorf Astoria New York, and Thai temples. It is a triumph of one man’s creativity. André Fu, renowned architect and interior designer, is the founder of international design studio AFSO, and the man behind this stunning concept. While he has many years of experience, the challenge of this building was a first – there is hardly a straight wall in the place. Based on the shape of a magnolia flower, the entire building is constructed of curves.
The hotel offers a choice of 35 suites, from the 75 sqm King Deluxe Suites, to the 150 sqm two-bed Waldorf Suites, but there is only one Royal Suite.
Fu says: “When I first came to see the site, the building structure was already there. The concrete was poured. I met the owners and discussed the project with them. I immediately saw a very organic, curved futuristic building. But wondered how did this work with Waldorf Astoria?
“When you think of Waldorf Astoria, you think of rectilinear structures, such as the majestic and formal first Waldorf Astoria in New York, filled with art deco and art nouveau decorations and motifs. So the idea of putting this legendary legacy brand into a contemporary design was a surprise.”
However, for the Hong Kong-based designer, this should not just be a contemporary twist on a legacy brand, it should also represent and reflect its surrounds. While distinctly Waldorf Astoria, it should also be unmistakably Thai.
Fu explains: “Bangkok has changed in the last 10 years, especially in the retail and cuisine sectors. Sometimes you see something classic, sometimes contemporary, often side by side, but never the two together. That is what makes this a first, and the most ambitious hotel in Bangkok.”
Fu achieved his ideals by adapting art deco motifs to represent classic Thai elements. The brass work panels that decorate every room, lift and corridor, from the entrance up to the 16th floor, represent the movement and fluidity of the Thai dancer. Fu explains: “The Thai dancing style features elegant hand movements. The fingers, with long nails, are turned up in a welcome gesture. The screens recreate that movement.”
The result is a calm environment where solid stonework and marble blocks are carved into soft fluid curving profiles, round coffee tables sit on curved bases and bathtubs are tucked away around corners, putting the challenging arcs of the building to intriguing use.
Another unexpected aspect of a hotel in this crowded city is how open the Waldorf Astoria feels, and the fantastic views in every direction. Set next to the low rise Ritz Carlton on Ratchadamri Road, it faces the exclusive Royal Bangkok Sports Club – a 90-acre oasis in the heart of the city. This means that many of the rooms and restaurants are afforded views across the emerald green golf course and cricket pitches, to the glittering high rises of the city beyond. While from the second curving side are views across shopping centres and temples, to the distant skyline.
When I first came to see the site, the building structure was already there. The concrete was poured. I met the owners and discussed the project with them. I immediately saw a very organic, curved futuristic building.
On arrival, you are whisked up to the 16th floor, to the signature Peacock Alley Lounge, for your check in, with your personal concierge. Here teas and light meals are served at elegant sofas and chairs. The traditional clock, a central feature of every Peacock Alley, is set in a symmetrical art deco brass work, but the simple shapes, echoed in the carpet details, are based on Thai temple bells.
Across from the lounge is the Brasserie, where window-side tables are wrapped around a central kitchen featuring the best of European and Asian cuisine. The perfect venue for the unique Thai-style eggs benedict at breakfast, or a long lunch.
However, we return down to the lobby level to experience the exquisite Front Room. In the calm pale colours of the restaurant, diners are treated to the extraordinary and in my case, food that is simply some of the best I have ever eaten.
Thai Chef de Cuisine Fae Rungthiwa Chummongkhon has worked in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe, including several years at Frederikshoj in Denmark. In her return to Thailand she has taken the essence of Nordic cuisine, and added Thai-inspired flavours and fresh local produce. The result is a tasting menu that explodes with flavours, and delights the taste buds, with incredible combinations of ingredients that are paired with chosen beverages or juices.
Happy diners can watch these works of edible art being created by the team of chefs at the open kitchen. Altogether, an astonishing experience that I cannot recommend highly enough.
At 300 sqm, it is expansive, with panoramic windows offering views across both the park and city from the lounge-dining room, kitchen and bar area.
Top of the shop
While Fu’s work defines the main hotel, internationally renowned design studio AvroKO masterminded the hotel’s top three floors and further dining options. The New York-based company has brought a distinctly US feel to the space with three distinctive dining outlets: Bull & Bear, The Loft and The Champagne Bar, each presenting a nod towards the Waldorf Astoria legacy.
Access to the top three storeys of the 57-floor building are by a separate high-speed lift from the lobby, which opens to reveal twin grand staircases sweeping up to the next level. Here on level 55, Bull and Bear offers grilled meats and seafood in a series of small rooms off a corridor that open into a dining room of snug spaces.
The bathroom is exquisite, with separate dressing and powder rooms. The whole suite is highlighted with beautiful material panels on the wall, brass screens and warm wooden floors. Idea for larger families, it is sleeps up to five people.
The Loft, a level above, is based on an artist’s studio, although far from a lonely garret, with small clustered tables and a menu of cocktails from the original 1935 Waldorf Astoria Bar Book.
At the very top the building you encounter The Champagne Bar. Or you do if you know the right people. From the Loft, the elegant wrought iron staircase, curves up either side to a wide landing, decorated with a huge metal artwork, but with no sign of the bar entrance.
Created by a Thai artist in Chiang Mai, the elaborate design, incorporating etched cymbals, sparkling earrings, framed mirrors and wing-like headpieces from the traditional Thai dancers’ costumes, hides a secret – the locking (or rather unlocking) mechanism for the entrance to the Champagne Bar. Press in just the right place and a door in the panel to your left, silently opens.
The discreet entrance leads you through a narrow curving corridor, with green glass and gold strap walls, to a wide bar and window-walled, low lit room, with small clusters of furniture and the most stunning views of Bangkok. This exclusive and intimate space really is for the exceptional few, with a total capacity of only 34 people at any time enjoying the driest bubbles and wettest wines. Perfect for an aperitif.