Of all the metro cities in India, Kolkata is known for its vintage charm reflected in the local residences that have withstood the test of time. However, in recent years, with a boom in construction, much of the city&rsquos past is vanishing with old buildings being demolished to make way for new multi-stories. Take, for instance, the tall skyscraper coming up on Chowringhee that can be seen for miles. But there is good news too. Some old homes are getting makeovers and are being presented to travellers who want a glimpse of the past. Some are being beautifully refurbished and converted into atmospheric hotels or bed and breakfasts (BnB) that preserve their architectural roots. So, next time you find yourself in Kolkata, give the usual hotel chains a miss and try one of these quaint, charming stays that have popped up in different parts of the city
This heritage BnB in North Kolkata takes its design cues from the area&rsquos rich history. Its six rooms showcase the professions of old neighbourhoods and their trade. The Mochipara room, dedicated to cobblers, has Kolkata&rsquos typical leather conductor bags on the walls. Jatrapara, the room dedicated to theatre artists who lived in the area, has a collage of colourful jatra posters. Dedicated to tailors and dressmakers, the Darzipara room has an old sewing machine turned into a table. The walls of the Patuapara room, the only one on the ground floor, show off the folk art of patuas. Boipara is a nod to College Street with its shelves stacked with old books from Abanindranath Tagore&rsquos Raj Kahini to Julius Fucik&rsquos Phansir Mancha Theke (based on the diary of Fucik who was a Czechoslovak journalist and a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia). And Sahibpara has Victorian buggy lights and photographs of old Calcutta. The standout element here is the vintage brass bathtub. Each room has a working Olivetti typewriter in case you are in the mood to go old-style and hammer out a few letters. In the winter, you can take a book and chill on an armchair on the terrace (a pink neon light signage says &lsquobaro maashey tero parbon&rsquo or that Bengal has 13 festivals in 12 months). The building was one of those crumbling townhouses that dot the North Kolkata landscape. That was till Iftekhar Ahsan of the award-winning city tour outfit, Calcutta Walks, and his friend, Chris Chen, thought of transforming the space into a heritage stay. Conservation architect Akhil Ranjan Sarkar and scenographer Swarup Dutta made sure while conceptualising the space that the vintage feel of the place was retained.
WHERE 5, Radha Kanta Jew Street, Fariapukur, Shyam Bazar
This labour of love comes from the folks behind Darjeeling&rsquos Glenburn Tea Estate (which once made it to Tatler&rsquos list of the world&rsquos top hotels). The nine-bedroom boutique hotel occupies the two topmost floors of an office building in the heart of Kolkata. Some suites have spectacular views of Victoria Memorial while others have private gardens with a jacuzzi. All rooms have antique four-poster beds (Burma teak carved with dancing girls and lions), desks with elephant-head handles on mirrored drawers, and bathrooms equipped with bathtubs, walk-in showers and their signature Glenburn Therapy Darjeeling green-tea bath accessories. There is also the infinity pool on the terrace from where the views of the city are spectacular. Watch out for the trippy wallpaper in the restaurant that was made in Paris and the pink Russian sofa and candy pink chandeliers in the lounge. Sign up for the Glenburn Private Excursions to explore the history, culture and cuisine of Bengal in the city.
WHEREKanak Towers, 7A Russell Street
Located strategically on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, opposite Salt Lake Stadium, Raajkutir isn&rsquot quite the same as the others on this list. Built on 13 acres, this is Ambuja Neotia&rsquos latest development. The residence is an inspired period piece with 33 immaculately designed rooms with curated vintage décor. The architecture reflects the Bengal of the past with cast-iron balconies, patios, crests, etc., while the amenities are modern-day, including an all-day diner, a spa, a gym, a pool, an artisans gallery and a shopping arcade. The all-day dining space called East India Room reflects Bengal&rsquos culinary influences&mdashJewish, British, Portuguese and Anglo-Indian. The Loafer&rsquos Café is a patisserie and boulangerie that attempts to replicate Victorian-era high tea. The property also has three large banquets and facilities for corporate events or exhibitions. While Raajkutir has structured a fictional story behind it, of a certain Kaliprasanna Singha and his family, you can sign up for a tour to hear more about the fanciful tales.
WHERE 89C, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Sarani, Phool Bagan, Kankurgachi
The Elgin Fairlawn
If you want to soak in genteel colonial charm, this should be your pitstop. Creaking with atmosphere, this iconic heritage hotel is housed inside a building built in 1783, and sits in the backpacker friendly neighbourhood of Sudder Street. Step inside and it&rsquos all antiques and soft furnishings. This place was earlier run by eccentric memsahib Violet Smith and had housed every kind of celebrity from Nobel laureate Gunter Grass and musician Sting to playwright Tom Steppard and actor Patrick Swayze. The hotel is now owned by the Elgin Hotels & Resorts group.
WHERE 13A, Sudder Street
Kolkata is dotted with many old homes that have been turned into independently run, charming guest houses. They provide a comfy homeliness and are located close to many tourist attractions.
This heritage red-brick house near Kalighat temple is a century-old bungalow with antique furniture, separate dining areas and fully-equipped kitchenettes. Lalbari doesn&rsquot have a website but its Airbnb page says previous guests have included Ravi Shankar and Indira Gandhi.
WHERE 2, Beltala Road, Bakul Bagan, Kalighat
The high-ceilinged rooms have wifi and cable. Boasting views of the Maidan and St Paul&rsquos Cathedral, you will love the wrought-iron elevator in the property. It offers a complimentary buffet breakfast, pick-up and drop-off facilities, and 24-hour checkouts. Though the tariff isn&rsquot available publically, I checked out the rooms and found the presidential suite was quoted at 3,700 while the deluxe air-conditioned rooms were for 2,700.
WHERE 55, Chowringhee Road
Located inside the Harrington Mansion on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, it offers three cosy, high-ceilinged old rooms with verandahs, free wifi and flat-screen TVs. Choose between continental and desi breakfast choices. It has private parking, concierge and laundry services, airport shuttle, coffee machines, and a shared kitchen. Pets are allowed but extra charges may apply.
WHERE Harrington Mansion, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kankaria Estates
This tiny boutique hotel is a lot of things synonymous with Kolkata&mdashclassic, eclectic and creative. Housed in a restored zamindari home dating back to 1904, it has the grandeur of a landowner&rsquos residence with a generous dose of eccentricity. The central courtyard with a glass pyramid doubles as the dining area. It has shelves stacked with coffee table books and old cameras. The walls are covered with old door locks and keys (all were part of the old property), mirrors and even a fire hose. The dining room has a Swarovski chandelier. The property has seven cosy rooms, each with a unique theme. They all have four-poster beds. One can enjoy a meal at the restaurant (dishes are a fusion of flavours with a local touch), drink a cocktail on the rooftop bar or work on a tan at the outdoor area on the roof.
WHERE 92B, Sarat Bose Road, Hazra, Bhowanipore
The Ivy House
This cosy, heritage BnB is in a building which is over 80 years old in the quiet, residential neighbourhood of Ballygunge. It is run by the owners of Kurseong&rsquos famous Cochrane Place. Walk in through the ivy-laden gate and wooden doors with lion-head knockers to enter the private courtyard with an old mango tree. There are four bedrooms in this gorgeously appointed townhouse, aesthetically designed with themes inspired by flowers of Bengal. Tuberose and Lotus&mdashthe bigger rooms&mdashhave four-poster beds, while Marigold and Carnation have antique furniture and vintage Bombay beds. The mother-of-pearl almirahs, vintage floor tiles from Portugal and a collection of ceramic plates on walls gives this BnB a lovely feel. There&rsquos also a gazebo-styled tea room called Karma Kettle which serves over 30 different blends inside the property.
WHERE 4, Swinhoe Street, Ekdalia, Ballygunge