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The History Of Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang

In its early days as an outpost of the East India Company, Penang drew travellers of every shade and description – merchants, missionaries, mercenaries, sailors and adventurers. From London to Singapore, one was required to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, an arduous journey which took four months on the average. In the 1840s, an overland rail route was established which made it possible for travellers to by-pass the Cape of Good Hope altogether.

But it was not until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the arrival of the steamship, that travel to Asia assumed unprecedented style and luxury. Writers, actors, playwrights, the rich and the titled, bored with Europe and America, looked to the exotic East to satisfy their wanderlust. Suddenly, there was a new breed of travellers – the globetrotters.

It was to meet the demands of these new affluent travellers that the Eastern & Oriental was born.

Already renowned in Southeast Asia for their enterprise and business acumen, the Armenian Sarkies brothers, Martin and Tigran, settled down in Penang and established the Eastern Hotel in 1884. Encouraged by its success, they opened another hotel, the Oriental in 1885, on an adjacent piece of land facing the sea. Combined, these two hotels became the largest hotel in Penang, offering 80 comfortable and tastefully appointed rooms.

In 1891, another Sarkies brother, Arshak, joined the business. More flamboyant than his brothers, he added a large ballroom in 1903. Before long, the E&O (as it came to be fondly called) became the centre of the social life and gaiety of Penang and its surroundings. It was the venue for the island’s major functions, such as weddings, banquets and the annual St. George’s Day Ball. Visiting musicians and cabaret acts also found their way to the E&O. Famous guests who enjoyed its hospitality included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Hermann Hesse.

In 1922, Arshak secured a large plot of land for the hotel which extended its already impressive sea frontage. On this piece of land was built the magnificent Victory Annexe, which added another 40 rooms. By 1927, the E&O was pronounced in advertisement as ‘The Premier Hotel East of the Suez’, boasting more than 100 rooms, 40 of them with adjoining bathrooms, hot and cold running water, individual telephones and a 842-foot seafront, ‘the longest of any hotel in the world’. Sadly, as the Great Depression set in, Arshak’s extravagance and mismanagement of his hotel also caught up with him, the E&O slipped into a slow decline, and after Arshak’s death in 1931, it changed hands several times. However, even at its lowest point, the E&O retained its charm and weathered the passage of time with character and grace.

Today, more than a century since its establishment, the E&O has reclaimed its heritage. And with its return to elegance, it would not be a matter of wonder, as a writer once put it, that ‘those who have once visited this famous hotel, regard the E&O as a haven to be sought again and again, as the traveller returns to the home of his affection.’   

About the Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Established by the famed Sarkies Brothers in 1885, whose architectural landmarks also include the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel in Penang island is the only hotel in the heart of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site that possesses prime sea frontage. Over its century-and-a-quarter history, the E&O Hotel has played host to some of the world’s most celebrated artists, writers and heads of state.

The original site of the E&O Hotel, the Heritage Wing, features 100 elegant and expansive suites that retained its unique colonial charm whilst offering modern comforts with round-the-clock butler service.

Staying true to its architectural inspiration, E&O unveiled its new extension in March 2013 – a 15-storey building named the Victory Annexe, its namesake being an old block of the hotel so named after the British victory in World War I. The Annexe adds a further 122 classically appointed, sea-fronting suites, complemented by new restaurants, meeting rooms, pool, spa, and niche retail outlets.

The Hotel’s restaurants and bar—Sarkies, 1885 and Farquhar Bar—have a celebrated reputation for serving an extensive menu ranging from Penang’s local delicacies to European fine dining.

E&O’s stately grand ballroom is perfect for hosting formal banquets, replete with viewing balconies and polished timber floors to honour the era and romance of debutante’s balls and black tie dinner and dancing.

The E&O Gallery, sited within the Victory Annexe retail arcade, is a unique project by the Hotel and Think City Sdn. Bhd. to relate the story of Penang’s social and cultural milestones as seen through the eyes of the E&O Hotel and its patrons.

Today, the luxurious 222 all-suite hotel stands as the grand dame of heritage hotels, its distinctive classic elegance and grace of service enhanced with time. Majority of the suites look out onto the ornamental garden and swimming pool with views across the Andaman Sea.

The E&O Group

Eastern & Oriental Berhad (collectively referred to as ‘The E&O Group’ or ‘E&O’) is listed on the Main-Board of Bursa Malaysia and has established itself as a premier lifestyle property developer with a proven track record for delivering innovative concepts and high standards of quality.

The Group’s past signature projects include the outstanding Dua Residency Condominium in the KL city centre and in upscale Damansara Heights, the Idamansara and Seventy Damansara exclusive landed homes. In the heart of the KL Central Business District, E&O’s St Mary Residences and the upcoming The Mews Serviced Residence, a joint-venture with Japan’s Mitsui Fudosan Residential, represent the latest in urbane and elegant city living. In Greater KL, E&O is embarking on a 135-acre wellness-themed development in Elmina West.

The masterplanned seafront development Seri Tanjung Pinang, E&O’s flagship project in Penang, is one of the most sought-after residential addresses on the island with the exceptional Quayside and Andaman seafront resort condominiums being the latest launches.

In Johor, E&O has partnered with the wholly-owned subsidiaries of Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited to develop the 207-acre Avira wellness-themed development in Medini, Iskandar Malaysia.

Taking the brand to the next level, The Group has successfully ventured overseas with its maiden project Princes House, a prime freehold property along Kingsway in central London. Recently, E&O strengthened its international growth engine with the addition of the 1919-built ESCA House, another prime freehold property to its cache in Bayswater, London.

E&O’s core of property development is supported by a cachet of complementary lifestyle elements. In the hospitality space, E&O is known for its iconic heritage hotels the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and the Lone Pine Hotel, as well as the contemporary E&O Residences Kuala Lumpur. In the lifestyle F&B space, E&O owns The Delicious Group of casual dining cafes in Kuala Lumpur. The Straits Quay retail centre and marina in Seri Tanjung Pinang bring to life the holistic concept of living by-the-sea complemented by the Performing Arts Centre of Penang and Straits Quay Convention Centre. Together, these lifestyle elements reinforce E&O’s position as a true lifestyle property development Group.