DUBAI: Dubai’s oldest hotel has shut down for refurbishment for the first time in more than 50 years.
Arguably one of the city’s most iconic landmarks since its opening in 1968, the eight-storey Ambassador Hotel on Falah Road near the Bur Dubai Creek is regarded as the first brick in the city’s hospitality industry.
Built by the then Dubai ruler Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (1912-1990) for Indian expat Lakhmichand Lulla, Ambassador Hotel used to be a firm favourite with visitors and residents alike for decades.
“It’s here where the high rollers of city would flock every evening,” recalled Ramesh A. Whabi, who joined the hotel in 1968 as general manager, a post he held until just six months back.
“We used to fly in bands from UK, Germany and Denmark. It was so much fun. The centerpiece of Ambassador was a sea-facing restaurant called Venus which was extremely popular among the royals. So much so that it was chosen over other destinations for a banquet dinner attended by all seven rulers of the emirates. Today, Dubai has an abundant wealth of restaurants catering to various tastes and budgets. But back in the day, the options were very limited. In fact, Venus was the only fine dining restaurant in the entire city.”
“The cuisine was largely European and there was a strict dress code. The guests ranged from royals and state heads to oil barons and celebrities. We routinely hosted banquets for royals from both within and outside the country. We have catered food for Princess Anne, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and even Queen Elizabeth II when she came to Dubai in 1979,” he recalled.
Among the many high-profile guests who stayed at the 81-bed Ambassador is oil tycoon and chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, David Rockefeller.
“He must have been pleased with our hospitality because he wrote back to us expressing his gratitude and appreciation,” said Whabi.
Laxmichand Lulla, who also opened the nearby Astoria Hotel, passed away a few years ago. Both hotels are now operated by his son.
The hotel management says the shutdown is temporary.
“We are giving the hotel a bit of a face-lift while trying to preserve its old world charm. Latest CCTV cameras and new fire fighting equipment are also being installed as per the requirements of the government. We are hoping to reopen within a month,” said a senior manager at the hotel.