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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

The hotel known for its luxe interiors, Chinese restaurant

The decision isn’t a surprise to anyone and the Centaur’s last act has played out across a decade. Its demolition will leave Hotel Corporation of India with just the Lake View Centaur in Srinagar.

delhi Updated: Aug 01, 2019 07:44 IST
Faizan Haidar
Faizan Haidar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Delhi Centaur, literally a stone’s throw from the airport (especially for someone with a strong arm) wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t sold for a variety of reasons. And, over the past two decades, it has slowly faded.
The Delhi Centaur, literally a stone’s throw from the airport (especially for someone with a strong arm) wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t sold for a variety of reasons. And, over the past two decades, it has slowly faded.(HT FILE)
         

It once boasted one of the city’s best Chinese restaurants, and was one of the capital’s most luxurious hotels, but time (and business) have not been kind to Centaur Hotel, run by a subsidiary of state-owned Air India — it is named after the airline’s old logo, the centaur — and it will close its doors to customers on October 31.

The hotel, built as part of New Delhi’s preparation for the 1982 Asian Games, which makes it as old as colour TV broadcasts in India , will be demolished by the end of the year and replaced by an elevated taxiway that will enhance the capacity of the country’s busiest airport.

The decision isn’t a surprise to anyone and the Centaur’s last act has played out across a decade. Its demolition will leave Hotel Corporation of India with just the Lake View Centaur in Srinagar. The Delhi Centaur’s peers in Mumbai, the Airport Centaur and the Juhu Centaur, had better luck.

They were both sold as part of the first National Democratic Alliance’s disinvestment drive. The former is now run by the Sahara group (it was originally sold to Batra Hospitality), and the latter is now the Tulip Star Hotel.

The Delhi Centaur, literally a stone’s throw from the airport (especially for someone with a strong arm) wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t sold for a variety of reasons. And, over the past two decades, it has slowly faded.

The Shaolin restaurant — one theory is it was named after The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, a kung-fu movie released in the late 1970s that did very well in India — that used to see long queues has been closed for over 10 years now. The Indian restaurant, Rasoi and the watering hole, among the most important requirements of an airport hotel, Soma Bar, aren’t operational either because the management doesn’t have enough money for maintenance.

It isn’t just the restaurants. Of the 376 rooms, only around 100 are operational. The rest haven’t been refurbished, or even maintained.

“I remember cooking for over 1,000 guests in a day back then but hardly anyone comes here now,” said Kishan Bahadur, who has been working as a cook at the hotel since 1982.

According to an order issued on Monday, the civil aviation ministry has asked Hotel Corporation of India to hand over the land occupied by the Centaur Hotel at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) and two Chefair flight kitchens to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) by November 30 this year.

The Centaur hotel may have been a victim of the rapid development Delhi saw in the late 1980s and 1990s.

“Centaur Hotel started losing its shine within five years of becoming operational. Due to its failure, hotels mushroomed in Mahipalpur,” said Sidharth Mishra, a Delhi- based journalist and author of Delhi Political, a book on the political history of Delhi.

Apart from the employees, the staff of Air India will also miss the hotel, which was the mandatory halt for crews spending the night in the city.

“This is a place where even if you order khichdi (a kind of porridge made from rice and lentils) at midnight, you will get it. The staff knows the crew by name and they are like a family to us. I still want Air India to retain this property because no matter how much it has deteriorated, we have an emotional attachment with it,” said a member of AI’s cabin crew staying at the hotel on Tuesday.

Hotel employees remember how posh the Centaur, with its glass lift and huge lobby, was in the 1980s.

“I started my training as a steward here when the construction was still on. Now, with two to three years of service left, I don’t want to go to any other city to work. This is the case with most of the staff. We have seen the best and worst of this property and always hoped that the hotel can be restored to its glory,” said Sanjeev Badvar, manager, food and beverages.

Initially, the hotel used to have over 500 staff but as they started retiring, the hotel never recruited replacements. Now left with about 100 staff, most of whom have less than five years of service left, the government will have to take a call on their posting, Since they are permanent staff, they will be offered postings in other cities but the online hospitality business Air India is left with, is a catering unit in Mumbai.

Although vast parts of the hotel have been closed — almost half the 45,000 sq m by some estimates — it still requires ₹40-50 crore for maintenance. The hotel’s main source of revenue are the flight kitchens, which service Air India and cook up 8,000 meals a day. At any point, less than 10% of the rooms are occupied by visitors while rest of them are occupied by Air India crew.

“There was always confusion whether to invest money in the hotel or not since there was no clarity when it would be demolished. When the Delhi airport was privatized, we knew the land would go to the private operator. In 2016, we were told that we have three years but at the same time we were also asked to renovate rooms. We did our best to revive it but with lack of money and confusion over the land, it was always a difficult task,” said Pankaj Kumar, CEO of the hotel.

Once the Centaur is gone,
Air India will have to look
for alternative accommodation for its crew. And for its flight kitchens.

First Published: Aug 01, 2019 06:56 IST

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