Measuring the Majapahit –
and its Heritage
Courtyard, Hotel Majapahit
The view at night, Hotel Majapahit
Hotel Majapahit – A Fresh Look at Originality
It is the ease with which the staff of Hotel Majapahit says, Original, in a thick Surabaya accent that makes the word jump out. That skip-a-beat lilt makes the word trippy and unfamiliar.
When the massive ballroom chandelier is pointed out, the response, original, resounds. The floor tiles on the miles of corridors edging the courtyards – the same answer. The clock atop the wall by the roof verandah – yes, that too. As for the stained glass windows in the hallway, the staff points out that the glass is over a hundred years old. And she gently corrects that the so-called hallway is actually the original century-old lobby, before a newer lobby – at least 70 years old – was built in front of it.
This is the sort of experience one still gets today at the 102-year old Hotel Majapahit in Surabaya, established in 1910 by Martin Lucas Sarkies (the son of one of the famous Sarkies brothers). This may not be unusual for historic hotels in some countries, where there is great respect for preserving heritage. But when compared to hotels of the same ilk such as the Sarkies trio of famous hotels, The Raffles (Singapore), The Strand (Yangon), and Eastern and Oriental Hotel (E &O) (Penang), the word originalacquires a different patina.
The make-over of the Raffles, Strand and E&O hotels in the last 15 years has demolished walls and resized rooms, and removed old doorframes, windows and ancient staircases. They offer their own interpretation of pristine luxury heritage. For instance, at the E&O hotel, its Anchor Bar of 1885 vintage with a 115-year old bar counter was removed in a 2001 renovation. These hotels recreated an old-world splendour variously praised by admirers and labelled faux by critics.
In contrast, the Majapahit restorations have over time left intact many structures, including the walls separating the rooms and within each room itself. Tap on the wall and one feels the century-old solid brick, and not fiberglass partitions commonly used today. Original columns and pillars remain, as do the courtyards that are a hallmark of the Sarkies’ properties.
The Majapahit’s fortunes have risen and fallen over time – its celebrated clientele have included Joseph Conrad and Charlie Chaplin. Today, it is picking up from where Mandarin Oriental left off after it ceased its management contract a few years ago. The present revamp sees a careful freshening of the hotel with paint coats of battleship grey and off-whites. The guestroom soft furnishings are maintained or replaced where necessary. A new bar and deli, The Maj, opened in June this year, in an existing section of the hotel property. Overall, there is great effort to keep the old-world authentic feel.
During their time, the Sarkies brothers raised hospitality to new levels and were famous for sparing little expense to make details of their hotels just right. Even by their fastidious measure, given the Majapahit’s fidelity to its heritage, they would, one suspects, be quite pleased with the hotel today.
Historic Hotel Majapahit
Fountain, Hotel Majapahit
Room 33 and the Flagpole
It was into this hotel guest room that Roeslan Abdulgani and several others entered to confront the officers of the Anglo Dutch Country Section Office, who had set up their base here, as part of the recolonization effort. The colonialists had earlier raised the Dutch red-white-blue flag at the top of Oranje Hotel.
19 September 1945.
The Japanese had lost the war; the Dutch were trying to take back the country, and the flag was a symbol of this repossession.
Incensed Indonesian youth forced their way into the hotel and some reached the flag on the pole, and ripped out the blue segment – transforming it into the Indonesian red and white flag.
During the war, this hotel had been known as Yamato Hotel by the Japanese. On this fateful day of 19 September at 6.30pm, the revolutionaries screamed out “Merdeka!”, igniting the violent drive for independence. The hotel was re-christened Hotel Merdeka (“Liberty Hotel”). The bloody battle of Surabaya that ensued saw a city virtually levelled by the allied forces and 90 per cent of the population fleeing the city.
Today, that exact room 33 and the same flagpole remain – at the hotel renamed in 1969 as Hotel Majapahit. Roesland Abdulgani eventually became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Indonesia in the Sukarno government in the 50s and 60s. In November 1998, he returned to install Flag Terrace plagues at the hotel.
It was at the Hotel Majapahit that fate and passions, and ideals fiercely collided to forever change the course of Indonesian history.
Garden Terrace Room
Balai Adika, Century-old Ballroom
Working at it – at the Majapahit
143 guest rooms including 10 Majapahit Suites and one Presidential Suite. Pick a standard guest room on the ground floor with a verandah over the main courtyard – the view is superb. The Majapahit Suite is beautifully appointed and none the worse for wear, with an old world charm. Some of the ground-floor rooms have verandahs leading straight to the pool.
Pool & Spa :
There are hints of Moroccan style at the fabulous pool and spa, with its stone jars, rough hewn tiles, and columns. This is not uninhibited Moorish as it steers clear of over-the-top geometric designs and floral arabesque. The building housing the gym behind the pool has Moorish-inspired arch windows, by which birds swirl in a noisily magical way every evening. The spa treatments are excellent.
This is classic Sarkies gardens, with several courtyards and their benches and single or double-tiered water fountains. In the evening in the main courtyard, tiny frogs gather at the fountain – a stroll here is enthralling because these tiny creatures jump all over the garden at night but disappear in the day.
The quality of the food is uneven. At Indigo restaurant, the Indonesian fare is generally of quite a high standard – the oxtail soup and fried spicy oxtail with rice are excellent and desserts, getuk pisang,putrid ayuand dadar gulungscrumptious. The Western selections generally miss the mark one sets for a five-star property. The under-patronised Chinese restaurant, Sarkies Seafood, has some outstanding dishes including sautéed garlic prawns and black pepper beef. Drinks and cocktails are served at the newly opened The Maj.
This is a not-to-be-missed experience out on the manicured carpet-grass lawn – the three-tier tea service is average but the atmosphere is unbeatable.
Earnest service but needs polish to bring it up to the standards of a five-star establishment.
If Only :
The street along which the hotel is located is a semi-expressway with non-stop speeding cars. This subtracts from what would otherwise be a lovely driveway to a stunning historic property.
Very precious authentic old world charm – the place is steeped in tradition, a heritage hotel where you literally put your hand on life-changing history when you touch the walls and the fixtures.
65 Jalan Tunjungan
East Java Indonesia
► Jeffrey Lee
The Really Review ™ – Unveiling the truth of luxury hotels
Original stained glass, Former Lobby, Hotel Majapahit
Original floor tiles, Hotel Majapahit