I was there, January 11, 2007, when the venerable Ritz-Carlton in Boston’s historic Back Bay was sold to the Taj Hotels and Palaces Of India, one of Asia’s largest hotel company,
Bostonians, and much of the East Coast Establishment, cried “heresy.”
A tradition and an emotional landmark was gone, sold to foreigners, for one hundred seventy million dollars.
The Ritz was not just a hotel. It was a Boston icon, a place for High Tea, Martinis, a watering hole for “Boston Brahmins,” the city’s ruling elite.
It was home to visiting dignitaries.
The dining room is still filled with photos of Winston Churchill, Shirley Temple, Rogers and Hammerstein.
In that sense the Taj is unchanged from the Ritz-Carlton: “The Fighter” star, Christian Bale stayed here while filming, and the president of Lithuania was due in days after we left.
Otherwise, four years later, on a return visit, how has the Taj (a Hindi Sanscrit word meaning “Crown”) changed the Ritz luxury hotel experience?
The signature Ritz Blue Cobalt glasses are gone.
There are more Indian staffers, though the staff still come from around the world.
The welcoming TV screen features a scion of the Tata family, more or less in local dress, talking about the romance of India and the quality of the Taj hotels.
India’s Tata group is one of the wealthiest and most powerful in India, noted especially for their philanthropy.
Patrick Blangy, Director of Sales and Marketing of The Taj Boston, says that many people still come because they remember the hotel as the Ritz. But, he adds, “they are coming increasingly because of the Taj brand, and of course our great location across from the Boston Garden and on Newbury Street.”
There are plans, Blangy says, to integrate further the cultural and aesthetic characteristics of India into the US-based properties, but he says these plans are “in development,” and reassures that the cultural additions with be tasteful and subtle.
Already the famous Ritz menu has an overlay of Indian cuisine, like a butter chicken Masala or a Dal Makhani , a red lentil and bean dish, terrific with a Taj Mahal Lager beer.
Up-scale rooms still offer spectacular views of the Boston Garden across the street, but guests there are treated to an astonishing, elegantly carved elephant, a symbol of India, caparisoned in pure chocolate.
The service is as first-class as we remember it to be in the days of the Ritz-Carlton.
In TripAdvisor, Yelp Boston, Yahoo, with very few exceptions, the reviews were exceptional.
None noted a significant difference between a stay at yesterday’s Ritz-Carlton and today’s Taj, and all strongly suggest getting a room facing the fabled Boston Gardens.
What did surprise me was how accommodating the Taj is to families, many of whom I saw milling about the lobby,
I overheard at least one request for a crib, graciously acknowledged by the staff.
The hotel art is still striking, but with certain Indian fabrics and touches.
The piano and player are gone from the clubby bar, and that’s probably an improvement.
Four and a half years later, there are those who wish the Ritz-Carlton was never sold, but nothing in the reality of a Taj stay justifies that.
There is competition from the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental and smaller intimate hotels that spring up frequently in the reinvented Boston, so The Taj will have to stay on top of its game to stay competitive…and we strongly suggest dropping the charge for WiFi.
That should be obvious.
To newcomers to Boston (and for those who have lived here) the best way to see the phenomenal changes the city has undergone, is to take a tour.
We can recommend Best Of Boston for a fresh look.