In August 1990, as Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bhaichand Patel watched the drama unfold from a rather unlikely venue — a discotheque called Number One, at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mansingh Road (popularly known as Taj Mansingh).
“This was the first hotel in Delhi to introduce satellite television. A big screen would be put up at the disco, and I would come here to watch news on CNN. By 10 pm, it would be packed with people who came there to party,” reminisces the 81-year-old author, about the hotel which is set to be auctioned off soon.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court granted permission to New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to e-auction the hotel. Set up in 1978, it replaced a rather nondescript hotel called Fonseca’s, and established itself as a five-star to reckon with.
“I was fascinated by this hotel when it first opened its doors. As a promotional tactic, they sold soup in a bowl at Machan, their 24X7 eatery, for Rs 5. I produced films such as Shama and Dard in 1981, and every time the cast and crew — including Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna and Kader Khan — came to town, I would make them stay at the Taj Mahal,” says former film producer Billoo Seble, 75.
The hotel’s walls and banquets were also privy to baithaks, book launches, art exhibitions and lavish parties.
“The first time I watched Kishori Amonkar ji perform was at a very private gathering at the Taj Mahal hotel in the early ‘80s. And the Dalai Lama too has held his teachings in the main hall. Those were very heartwarming and spiritual experiences,” says veteran photographer Raghu Rai.
Apart from hosting and housing artists and filmstars, the Taj Mahal Hotel also enjoys the reputation of being a foodie’s paradise — from the disco in the basement with its black-and-white portraits of Fearless Nadira and Madhubala, and Delhi’s first authentic Italian restaurant on the rooftop called Casa Medici to House of Ming, which serves Chinese cuisine.
“Back in the day, they had Delhi’s best seafood restaurant called Captain’s Cabin. It was like being on a ship, and they served dishes such as clam chowder soup, lobsters and prawns. It was a big deal then. And when I was in college, we used to head to Machan after parties because they would have a 50 per cent off on buffet post-midnight,” remembers Sunil Sethi, President of Fashion Design Council of India.
For restaurateur Shiv Karan Singh, 44, the first thing that comes to mind while talking about the hotel is yellow Thai curry at Machan. “It was legendary, and had to be eaten at every visit, so much so that sometimes my friends and I would save up money just for this,” says Singh.