With its sleek design, contemporary art, and modern comforts, at first glance Raffles Europejski appears to be a newcomer in the luxury hotel industry. Look more closely, though, and you will find artifacts providing clues to its 160-year-old past. As I meandered the halls of the hotel and dived into its history of war and legal battle, of success and cultural prominence, I felt the weight of all that it had endured and overcome.
Designed by Polish-Italian architect Henryk Marconi, Hotel Europejski (the European hotel) welcomed its first guests on the Royal Route in 1857. It did not take long before it earned a reputation among high society as one of Europe’s leading hotels. Members of the city’s artistic community — from painters to writers and poets — were especially drawn to the Neo-Renaissance building, some of whom — including Józef Chełmoński, Antoni Piotrowski, and Stanisław Witkiewicz — set up studios in the building’s upper floors.
Flash forward to World War II. The Europejski managed to weather the Luftwaffe’s aerial campaign in 1939, but was nearly destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising and German army’s retreat five years later. Although the exterior of the building survived, little else remained.
After a temporary stint as a military academy, Hotel Europejski saw a complete overhaul when it reopened as Orbis Hotel Europejski under Polish hotel group Orbis in 1962. The world-renowned hotel returned to a likeness of its former glory, its renowned grandeur limited during renovations by a tight budget and socialist influence. Nevertheless, the hotel once more became an oasis for the elite. The Europejski has welcomed the likes of the Rolling Stones, Marlene Dietrich, and Robert Kennedy, and in the 1980’s, famous writers, actors, and directors would frequently visit the corner restaurant when they were done filming a scene or performing a show. It was then "the place to be," said co-owner Vera Michalski-Hoffmann in the latest issue of Raffles Magazine.
Following a few thriving decades, the Orbis era came to a close: the heirs of the original Hotel Europejski sued the hotel group in 1993 to regain ownership of what they believed was rightfully theirs. Twelve years later, the heirs won their case.
After the Europejski closed in 2013 for reconstruction, it reopened its doors in June 2018 under luxury hotel brand Raffles. Like all hotels under Raffles management, Raffles Europejski Warsaw reflects the culture and vibe of the surrounding city, and in this case pays the utmost respect to both the building and Warsaw’s dynamic history. “Maintaining the cultural heritage by restoring this historical landmark to its original splendour has been of paramount importance,” said Michalski-Hoffmin.
While the aesthetic looks nothing like Hotel Europejski's 19th century design, Slovak designer Boris Kudlička repurposed some of its surviving features and implemented them into the hotel’s design. The mosaic in the spa — a work of art created by Krystyna Kozłowska in 1961 — was transferred piece by piece from its original location in the hotel lobby, where it hung during the Orbis years.
Kudlička paid tribute to the hotel’s history with symbolic features as well. A brass half circle, embedded in the floor of an upstairs hallway, marks the spot where a spiral staircase used to stand. The 160 metallic balls hanging from the ceiling in the lobby mark the number of years it has been since Hotel Europejski first opened its doors. Blue and white plates hanging in the restaurant were modeled after the plates that hung in the original hotel.
As you walk through the halls, you may stumble upon one of four Memory Rooms: a tiny memorial to the hotel’s fascinating past. In one, you will find black and white photos of rich and glamorous guests dancing in the long gone ballroom. Turn your head and you will see clothes preserved from the 1920’s, fashionable items similar to what guests of the Europejski actually wore.
“The building has been an important part of Polish culture, tradition and history — decisions were made here that impacted the nature,” said Kudlička in Raffles Magazine. “Through the design, we’ve tried to establish a space in which everyone can feel the continuity of Polish history… But this hasn’t just been about recreating the past. We needed to write a ‘new story for an old hotel’ and continue the traditions of craft and design, yet transfer them to the modern world.”
The most stunning example of this is the nearly 500 works of art displayed throughout the hotel, in common areas like the lobby and Europejski Grill as well as the private rooms. An assortment of paintings, sculptures, and installations, the art collection features 120 local Polish artists and serves to honor the Europejski’s creative legacy. “The intention was to make this the first collection of contemporary art in a Warsaw hotel that refers to the city’s rich history, as well as to the local context,” said curator Barbara Piwowarska in Raffles Magazine. Guests with an affinity for the arts can book a tour with the in-house Art Concierge to dive deeper into works by Włodzimierz Zakrzewski, Tadeusz Kantor, and Turner Prize nominee, Goshka Macuga.
The Lourse Warszawa patisserie is another prime illustration of "new story for an old hotel." With its delightful array of cakes, chocolates, ice cream, and pastries, the treats are modern versions of old recipes sold in the original bakery.
Likewise, the Europejski Grill — which overlooks the Piłsudski Square — serves up a delectable menu of Polish and international cuisine from Executive Chef Beñat Alonso. Every bite, including the beetroot tartare (42 PLN, $11.18), short ribs (68 PLN, $18.11), smoked halibut omelette (45 PLN, $11.98), and poppy seed cake (26 PLN, $6.92) is full of delicious flavor.
Raffles Europejski Warsaw, however, is not to be mistaken for the original Hotel Europejski. When Raffles opened up its new Warsaw location, the hotel brand brought with it its signature style. Achieving a delicate balance between opulent and intimate, Raffles serves to pamper its guests while building relationships with them. Upon entering the Europejski, I was greeted with a warm welcome and introduced to my butler and his offer of 24-hour service.
Flourishes from the original Raffles in Singapore can be felt and experienced. All 106 guest rooms and suites, for instance, feature libraries and writing desks in reference to the famous writers — from Ernest Hemingway to Rudyard Kipling — who paid a visit to the iconic hotel.
Guests and locals alike mix together at The Long Bar, the hotel bar modeled after Raffles Singapore’s historic watering hole. Raffles has opened up a new location in Warsaw, offering Asian-inspired cuisine on its dinner menu and the signature Singapore Sling. For a local take on the cocktail, guests can opt for the Warsaw Sling, a wintry cocktail with Tanqueray no. 10, quince, gingerbread, pineapple, lemon, and orange (52 PLN, $13.72).
The spa, too, is a pinnacle of relaxation. Featuring a sauna, steam room, and experience showers, guests have their pick of treatments inspired by Asian, Middle Eastern, and European traditions. After treating themselves to facials and massages, guests can polish off the occasion with tea and a selection of books in a relaxation room.
While eating dinner my last night with the hotel's General Manager Thomas Brugnatelli, an older man wandered up to our table.
“Do you work for the Raffles hotel?” he asked Brugnatelli.
The man was Wojciech Fibak, a former Polish tennis player and one of Poland's richest men. He comes to the hotel every night just to sit and relax in the lobby, he said. It appears as if Raffles Europejski Warsaw has, by all accounts, brought back the essence of the original Hotel Europejski: a gathering place for the local community.
The Europejski is much like the city of Warsaw itself. Each has faced decimation and endured its unfair share of struggles. They wear their past for all to see: This is what happened, this is us. Over the years they have sought to overcome all obstacles to become an improved version of their former glory. They are not just surviving, they are thriving.
Rooms start at $287.83 a night.