I was in Calgary earlier this week, and loyal Fairmont President’s Club member that I am, I stayed at the Palliser.
Lots of history here. The hotel, like all the original CP hotels, is located right along the railway tracks in the city. It was built in 1914 as a layover spot for tourists on their way to the rather better known Banff Springs Hotel.
But lots of personal history as well. The Palliser was a rendez-vous destination of choice when meeting F– during his many travels. We wined and dined and giggled and celebrated behind its walls. This hotel was also the scene of my captivity, trying to get home from Austria right before Christmas in ’08, battling storms, fog, and general chaos in two continents. It took five days before I got to Victoria – trapped in Frankfurt and then Calgary – and I missed Christmas. As a result, I have made a solemn vow to NEVER be in an airport during Christmas week for as long as I live. I’ve never spent the holidays in a hotel before, but the Palliser proved a worthy host, extending my stay graciously as every day brought a new disappointment regarding the impossibility of getting home.
The Palliser is one of the tired Fairmonts. Like the Royal York in Toronto, you can’t enter the hotel without climbing a set of stairs. Makes things rather awkward when I am dragging two bags with me – one for me and one for my brochures – but the hunky fellas at the door are usually there to help out. Its bizarre E-shaped building probably was done with the goal of getting a window for every room, but results in a rather caged feel as most of the views are of another wall of the building. The windows are small, the carpets are red, and the bathrooms are tiny. The rooms are, in my experience at least, some predictable version of a square: main space with bed and desk, large closet, and bathroom.
That said, the hotel is abolutely charming nonetheless. The lobby is open, bright and beautiful with the gorgeous Edwardian architecture you usually find in the CP grande dames. I had the chance to peek into a couple of the ballrooms during my Christmas captivity – since it was minus 33 degrees and there wasn’t much open on Christmas day – and the spaces were absolutely elegant: oak, marble, crystal candelabras… the works.
And then there’s Anna. I dine in the Oak Room at least once during most of my stays. Anna is the server that I always see there, a mature Chinese lady who masters guest service with near military precision. She is loud and brash and charming and hilarious. And always, always professional. She nudges and coaxes and coddles her guests into enjoying themselves as much as possible. She cheers when you order French Fries, or a second round of drinks. She’ll accommodate odd requests with grace. She fixes gaffes immediately: one time my glass must have had some detergent residue in it – the wine tasted of lemons and chemicals – and she righted the situation within a single minute. She knows her regulars and they clearly adore her. The place is warm and welcoming, to a great extent because of her.
When I was there this week, I noted that a big renovation has just begun, scheduled for 2010/2011. What great news! I have no idea what’s in store, but I have seen the results of fantastic updates at other older Fairmonts, and so my hopes are high.