The pub with no peer

Shanghai Star. 2003-01-16

AFTER the signing of the infamous "Nanking Treaty" in 1842 - which forced China to open up to the outside world on humiliating terms - a continuous stream of foreign businessmen began arriving in Shanghai.

To accommodate them, many taverns opened along Yangkingpang (now Yan'an Donglu) but Westerners could not accept their traditional Chinese style of architecture.

In 1846, an Englishman surnamed Richards, built a modern European-style hotel on Astor Road (now Jinmen Lu), naming it after himself.

In 1861 the hotel was sold to Henry Smith who renamed it the Astor House Hotel.

In 1907, the old two-storey building was pulled down and a six-storey hotel built in reinforced concrete, brick and wood, went up in its place.

The architecture featured English neoclassicism with high Roman arches covered in delicate carvings. A huge awning was installed above the southern door on Huangpu Lu and each room had a projecting balcony.

Guests could relax in their rooms or on their balconies and watch the busy shipping traffic on the Huangpu River or enjoy the spectacle provided by the flotillas of smaller boats shuttling along Suzhou creek.

Back then, the question of water quality in the Huangpu or Suzhou Creek was not an issue and one can imagine tourists bathing in the dusky light on a summer evening before returning to the Astor for an evening meal, drinks and a dance.

In the early 1920s, Richards' old tavern was regarded as Shanghai's most reputable hotel where room prices ranged from US$6 to US$12 a night, more than twice the rate at Chinese-owned establishments, but demand was always high.

The hotel hosted many important historical events over the years. The first meeting to discuss the setting up of the "Committee on Roads and Jetties" was held in Richards Hotel on December 22, 1846. And on July 26, 1882, electric power was first turned on and four electric lamps gave out a dazzling brightness to the Astor's Flower Garden Annex.

In 1901, the hotel also broke new ground with the introduction of the first automatic telephone equipment in Shanghai.

The Astor in its long history has also welcomed some distinguished guests including Albert Einstein in 1922 and Charlie Chaplin in 1936.

It was renamed the Pujiang Hotel on May 27, 1959 and since then has maintained its old style while providing a more modernized service.

Today it is part of the youth hostelling network in China.

Vivian Wang

Copyright by Shanghai Star.