by Padraic Giligan, Vice President Industry Relations, MCI
Astoria 100 – A Grand and Lavish Affair
I have a lot to say about St Petersburg but I’ll start with the party because, after all, that’s the reason I went there. The Hotel Astoria is celebrating 100 years of hospitality in 2012 /2103. I anticipated something epic, a grand and lavish affair, as befits a hotel that, on its guest register, has such party animals as Rasputin (Russia’s “famous love machine” according to Boney M) and Elton John (he swears he didn’t know “Nikita” is a boy’s name in Russia!). So when the “save the date” announcement came through my personal letter box last spring I took notice and immediately blocked the dates in my outlook calendar.
The Hotel Astoria has been part of the Rocco Forte collection since the late 90s but underwent a radical renovation in 2002 which reduced the overall guest room count to 169 (including 86 suites) raising the standard of the property to uncompromising 5 star deluxe in the process. It’s a typical Rocco Forte property – understated, simple luxury to exacting international standards but hard wired socially and culturally into the uniqueness of the destination.
800 guests celebrate 100 years
Needless to say, Sir Rocco’s celebration of a major milestone event does not disappoint. Over 800 guests have accepted invitations to attend, the majority from Russia. All the glamour magazines from Moscow and St Petersburg are in attendance, along with a smattering of international clients from the greater Europe (myself included). Sir Rocco himself is here looking a bit like Roman Abramovich’s older brother. The average aesthetic quotient of the event has been raised several notches by the conspicuous attendance of a small army of elite lookers whose job it is to stand there and simply look gorgeous.
Nice work if you can get it, as the Gershwins might say.
Food and beverage, too, is far from the ordinary – Louis Roederer champagne flows freely all night long with vodka martinis and limitless shots of super-premium Beluga. We drink a nice Chianti Classico and, at the stunning Lichfield Bar, named for photographer Lord Lichfield, for the after-party, you can have 18 year old Glenmorangie and Hennessy XO. There are extensive sushi and oyster bars with ice sculptures set in the middle of the Winter Garden and an elaborate buffet of Italian delicacies in the pre-function area where a larger than life Italian chef scatters fresh parmigiano on your risotto aided and abetted by a beautiful brunette in heels who towers over him. This is culinary theatre at its best and we’re all eating it up!
Poise and Balance
All public spaces and function rooms at the Astoria have been commandeered in support of the affair. It makes for a perfect function flow and creates the pleasing impression of an elegant but informal house party. Limited seating is provided in the Ballroom, the Winter Garden and the Lobby area and roving musicians with double bass, snare drum, guitars and sax serenade guests table-side with everything from Django Reinhardt to the Beatles. Periodically gymnasts and mime artists appear on platforms over the buffet displays and perform ballet style routines with hoops. It’s a truly balanced event that delights and stimulates the senses while, importantly, leaving time and space for chat. We enjoy a wonderful visit with Natalia and Irina, from Galaktika, Ovation’s Russian strategic partners, and learn so much about the radically changing social fabric of Russian life since glasnost.
As the night unfolds and the champagne continues to flow the music moves up a notch in volume and beat. Live jazz versions of “Ob la di, Ob la da” cede to cool club mixes of “Superstition” complete with live saxophone and drums. The action shifts from the Winter Garden to the Astoria Cafe which, for one night only, has become the coolest club in St Petersburg filled with exceedingly happy revellers, all feeling no pain. Rita and I take our Chiantis out front into the white night uniqueness of this wonderful city. The monumental immensity of St Isaac’s, the life’s work of French architect Montferrand, dominates the magnificent urban space in front of the Hotel.
The distant beat of Rihanna’s “Shine bright like a diamond” initially jars with the scene but then takes on deeper significance.
We’re sipping and savouring Tuscan wine under a bright Russian sky at midnight.
It has been a shining night, a diamond encrusted destination experience at a hotel redolent of history, heritage and high times.
Huge thanks to Rocco Forte’s Regional Director of Global Sales for Continental Europe, Patrizia di Patrizio for the invitation; to Miriam Lackovicova, recently appointed Director of Sales and Marketing at Hotel Astoria for the warm welcome; to Tatiana Koroleva for the great site inspection and to Nina Afonia, Sales Co-ordinator at the hotel for assistance with travel.
And huge thanks, too, to my dear friends and colleagues at Galaktika, destination management consultants extraordinaire, Natalia and Irina and team, for all they do for MCI and Ovation in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s, destination services division.