Premier Palace Hotel at night. A huge façade stretching along the tree lined Shevchenko Boulevard
FROM PALAST HÔTEL TO PREMIER PALACE
In the years of 2009–2012, the Premier Palace Kyiv commemorates 100 Years of Building the Legend, three years of celebrations of the erection of the first modern hotel in Kyiv. The history of the hotel has now been published in a book of the worldwide library The Most Famous Hotels in the World®.
At the corner of Pushkin Street and Shevchenko Boulevard we find Kyiv’s only historic hotel, Premier Palace. Originally called the Palast Hôtel, it was built in 1909–1912. Now the story of this great hotel has been recorded and forms the latest addition to the library of THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD books.
How was the stage set for such an enterprise? Well, that’s easy. Since 1908 the idea of an “All Russian Exhibition” encouraged investors to build hotels. Apartment houses rose in various parts of the city – it was one of the most ‘constructive’ periods in the history of Kyiv. Finally, the exhibition was held in 1913. That was sufficient time to build a perfectly equipped hotel: the Palace Hôtel, which would later be renamed Premier Palace - the flagship of the Palace hotel chain in Ukraine.
The book Premier Palace Kyiv takes you back to the Kyiv of the 19th century, when the stage was set for an international capital, which would one day govern the largest country of Europe. We read about the days when the city grew into a railway hub, when modern transport turned the ‘mother of all Rus cities’ into a trade centre. We meet Kyiv building tycoon Lev Ginsburg, who built part of the hotel. We come across the brilliant hotelier, Austrian Jacob Zellermeyer, the first lessee of the Palast Hôtel, as it was called. Kyiv’s newspapers immediately hailed the new hotel as ‘luxury premises’. Needless to say, during the All-Russian Exhibition in summer 1913, the most important visitors stayed there.
The Great War (1914–1918) brought business to a standstill. During the last year of the war the Palast Hôtel served the Germans as their embassy and consulate to Ukraine. Turkish ambassador Mukhtar-Pasha also stayed in one of the suites. The two neighbouring buildings (which were later incorporated into the hotel) housed the Soviet-Russian embassy and an Austro-Hungarian delegation. On 14 December 1918 the leader of independent Ukraine (installed by the German forces), Hetman Skoropadsky, made the hotel again the centre des affairs, when he took refuge at the Palace Hôtel. In one of its suites he finally resigned. In the aftermath of the Revolution, the Palast Hôtel was nationalised. Bibikov Boulevard was renamed Shevchenko Boulevard in honour of the most famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. The Palast Hôtel building now housed AUDA - the All-Ukrainian Department of Arts. All cultural institutions, in fact the entire cultural heritage of the country was to be registered in this building. After World War 2 adjacent buildings were joined and the hotel was renovated. During the 1950s the hotel ‘was back’: it had 230 employees, 339 room for 555 guests, a celebrated ‘first-class’ restaurant with a seating capacity of 200, a café-restaurant for 120 people, two banquet halls for 110 people and even two bars, a true Western decadence. The switchboard managed 400 telephone extensions. More services available were a tailor’s workshop, a hairdresser’s salon and a library with a collection of 25,000 books. Patriotically it was renamed Hotel Ukrayina.
The hotel was soon rated what would internationally be five stars, its restaurant has kept receiving culinary awards ever since. A wind of change blew from the early 1990s. Important acts paving the way for Ukraine becoming an independent state were drafted and discussed at the hotel. Ukrainian people’s deputies arrived at the hotel from all over the country. Representatives of the Democratic bloc as Vyacheslav Chornovil, Mykhailo and Bohdan Horyn, Volodymyr Filenko, Mykola Porovskiy paved the way for the Ukraine to become an independent state from within the walls of this hotel. The hotel became such a symbol of the ‘wind of change’ that in April 1991 a division of the Ukrainian Special Forces, which remained loyal to the Soviets, stormed the room of people’s deputy Stepan Khmara on the third floor. He was arrested and jailed.
But the path that Ukraine had taken was irreversible. On 24 August 1991 the Parliament of the Ukraine approved the act proclaiming the independence of Ukraine. On 1 December this historical decision was overwhelmingly approved in a nationwide Ukrainian referendum by a 92% majority. Following this new freedom, the hotel employees formed a collective enterprise to successfully keep the hotel open and running. In 1999 it was time for a major facelift. The corner of the hotel was in fact rebuilt, the façade was left intact, the inner part of the hotel removed and replaced by a modern structure, including the impressive atrium we have today. Oleksandr Lytvyn was appointed general director.
In 2005 the hotel reconstruction was completed, giving us not only 290 modern hotel rooms, but also a state-of-the-art fitness centre, a splendid indoor pool, a business centre, a shopping gallery, the most famous confectioner in town, a bakery, the cosiest lobby bar in the East, to name but a few attractions of the new hotel. The name had been changed, too; it was now called Premier Palace Hotel. This inspired the slogan: nomen est omen.
The renovated and restored enterprise was immediately and unanimously accepted A Select Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World®. This was recognition of the perfect blend of a restoration of a heritage property into a modern hotel, paired with a management that shows a deep respect for its remarkable history.
Part of a hotel’s heritage is usually a respectable list of famous guests. They all enjoy Kyiv’s most famous hotel as their ‘home away from home’, as Lytvyn likes to see his hotel: ‘Many of our guests have circled the globe more than once. Sometimes, they travel so much that they spend more time in hotels than in their own home. And when they’re tired of travelling, there’s nothing better than to feel the comforts of home, especially when they are in a foreign land! When the Premier Palace opened a hundred years ago, one of its first managers established a rule that we strive to keep to this day: “Our hotel must be a cosy, restful place and serve travellers as a second home while away from their real homes.”’
Kyiv born singer Alexander Vertinskiy even spent several memorable weeks at the hotel in 1955 while filming Flame of Sorrow. Today Suite 439 is named after him. In 1962 Russian film Star Lubov Orlova stayed at the hotel. Of course a suite is named after her, too. All together the hotel has named ten suites after famous personalities or themes. Among locally famous artists, international superstars, politicians and businessmen enjoy the Premier Palace. General director Oleksandr Lytvyn welcomed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, Prince Michael of Kent, politicians like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and supermodels like Eva Herzigová. Steven Spielberg, Ornella Muti, Sophia Loren, Soccer star David Beckham, Ukrainian singer Ani Lorak, Christina Aguilera, Sir Elton John, British singer Sonique, French cross-over soprano coloratura Emma Shapplin and singer Patricia Kaas can be found in the guestbook.
Bohdan Stupka, widely recognised as Ukraine’s most famous living actor, loves to come by. Polish film director and screenwriter Jerzy Hoffman regularly enjoys the Premier Palace hotel, as do movie actors like Fyodor Bondarchuk, Hollywood star Eric Roberts and actor Vladimir Vinokur, Russian writer Alexander Rosenbaum also sojourns at the hotel. Stand-up comedian Mikhail Zadornov visits Ukraine on a regular basis and enjoys the hospitality of the Premier Palace. Legendary Soviet ice hockey players Vladislav Tretyak and Alexander Sergeyevich Yakushev join the list of VIPs. Local heroes also stay here, including Pavel Romanovich Popovich, the first ethnic Ukrainian to fly into space as a Soviet astronaut. An A-list crowd flocks to the Premier Palace for fashion shows. Practically every night you find Kyiv’s society gathering at the lobby, getting ready for a night on the town, or sipping their aperitifs before having dinner at the exclusive rooftop restaurant, Terracotta – the Premier Palace’s new flagship restaurant. Its blend of cuisine takes you from America to Europe and from Russia to the Mediterranean. And to Ukraine, of course! Opening night was New Year’s Eve 2009, providing us with a new chapter in the hotel’s history book.
You see, another 100 years of history at the Premier Palace were rung in!