Last Guest to Check Out of the Mandarin Oriental Manila EVER: Hotel Closes After 38 Years

Witness The Emotional Goodbye To An Icon As The Mandarin Oriental Manila Closes Its Doors

Most of my stories for WhenInManila are relatively short affairs that are comfortably told in 600 words or less, but once in a while an event comes along that simply requires more words and more pictures to do it justice. This is one of those events. Grab a cup of coffee, take some time out from your day and follow me on an emotional journey as we bid farewell to a true icon of hospitality. A journey that finishes with us becoming the last guests to ever check out from the Mandarin Oriental Manila, before witnessing the amazing goodbye given to all staff members on the final day. This is the unmissable end of an icon and there will be tears.

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (5)Clockwise from the left: Lift to the top floor – One of the last room keys ever issued – The hotel’s lobby lounge – The Club Lounge on the 17th floor

On Tuesday the 9th of September 2014, after 38 years of operation, the Mandarin Oriental Manila closed its doors for good, but not before we got to spend one last night in its famous walls in an attempt to harvest just a little bit of the history and heritage that this famous hotel is filled with. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (6)Clockwise from the left: Martinis bar entrance – The Mandarin Oriental sign at the lobby – Entrance to Paseo Uno – The building at night

Opened in September of 1976 as The Manila Mandarin Hotel (or simply ‘The Mandarin’), and in time for the joint meeting of the World Bank-IMF, the name of the hotel was changed to Mandarin Oriental, Manila in 1985, when the holding company behind it changed its name from Mandarin International Hotels Limited to Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. At the time, the Leandro Locsin-designed Mandarin was one of the first luxury hotels in Makati, setting the gold standard for hotel accommodation in the city. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (8)Clockwise from the left: Last breakfast at the Club Lounge – The building from the outside – Chefs posing for last pictures – Thank You sign at the lobby

Over its nearly 40 years of operation, the Mandarin Oriental Manila was probably best known for the many cultural events that practically earned the hotel the nickname “the cultural center of Makati”. It also hosted many popular Chinese banquets within its walls, especially the grand Chinese New Year event which ran for 18 years, drawing thousands of New Year revelers to the hotel each year. Other special events that became landmarks in the city were the annual Oktoberfest celebrations, the gastronomic food festivals and promotions with award-winning chefs from all over the world including Michelin-awarded chefs, and the star-studded concerts at the Captain’s Bar where the likes of Kuh Ledesma, Martin Nievera, Sharon Cuneta and Gary Valenciano used to perform. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (4)Clockwise from the left: Signs advising of already closed shops – The empty Ballroom – Free Champagne – Signs in the lobby

As far as awards and recognitions go, the list is a long one, with the hotel claiming Kalakbay Hotel of the Year Award by the Department of Tourism of the Philippines (1993, 1994 and 1997), Overall Champion in Professional Hotel Category by Chefs On Parade (1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998), Top Hotel in Manila by Asiamoney Business Travel Poll (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997), Gold List, 500 Best Places to Stay by Conde Nast Travel (1995,1997, 1998), Best Hotels in Asia by Travel and Leisure (2001), Best Business Hotel in Manila, by Business Taveller–Asia Pacific (2003,2004), and many more. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (3)Clockwise from the left: The Club Lounge – Marcelino Castillo, Mandarin Oriental employee for the last 31 years – The lift lobby – The lobby lounge

Of course, many a VIP also stayed at the hotel over the years, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Neil Armstrong, Andrea Bocelli, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Miley Cyrus, Beyonce Knowles, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise, and Christopher Walken to name but a few. Most would have stayed in the very same accommodation we had arranged for the last ever night of operation, the Mandarin Suite on the 18th floor. Advertised as the most prestigious suite in the house, this two bedroom luxury retreat gave us a small glimpse of how ‘the other half’ live, and the management went out of their way to ensure that the last ever night would be a memorable one, including sending us free champagne and providing personalized bathrobes to take home. I normally only take pictures, but in this case I did a little video tour of the suite as well, which you can watch on YouTube here.   

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (1)Clockwise from the left: Mandarin Suite entrance – Mandarin Suite bedroom – Personalized bathrobes – Mandarin  Suite living room

Most restaurants and outlets had already been closed well in advance of the final day, including the famous Kiplings Cigar Bar and all food outlets except Paseo Uno. The hotel had organized a number of farewell parties and events over the last few months to celebrate its gastronomic and entertainment history. Dubbed “MeMOries: Best of the Best”, these events saw many current and former chefs, executives and special guests return to the hotel for one last display of culinary excellence, including Executive Chinese Chef Hann Furn Chen, renowned Feng Shui Master Joseph Chau, who led the Tin Hau restaurant through 13 years of auspicious Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn celebrations, Executive Sous Chef Remi Vercelli, the hotel’s acclaimed former Executive Chef Norbert Gandler who had led the culinary teams in the past to win various competition awards and mentored many of the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs, assisted by two other ex-Mandarin chefs Ernesto Babaran and Kenneth Cacho; and the chef extraordinaire Margarita Fores who teamed up with Executive Chef Rene Ottlik for one last performance behind the stove. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (7)Clockwise from the left: Worn down lift button in the lobby – Entrance door to the hotel – MO Club sign – Hotel floor with rooms

Many people will also have fond memories of ‘Martinis’, the hotel’s slick smoking bar, and its farewell party featured a stellar line-up of some of its most notable resident DJs and bands, including Kat Aggarado, KO Jones, Mulatto, DJ Boyet Sison, DJ Elian Habayeb, and DJs Robby Lopez and Agnes Macasaet.

There was no party atmosphere during the last ever dinner buffet at Paseo Uno on Monday night, however, where the air was for one last time filled with the smell of all the different food on offer, lovingly prepared and served by staff who remained 100% professional and committed to the end. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (2)In these pictures: The last ever dinner buffet at Paseo Uno

Of course, the end of the hotel also means the end of employment for virtually all members of staff working at the imposing building on the corner of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue, many of whom have been with the company for a very long time. In fact, a handful of employees were actually part of the team that opened the hotel in 1976, while many others have also spent decades working there, like Marcelino Castillo, who I met outside on the last night, and who is now planning to retire after 31 years at the Mandarin. 

The company decided well in advance that it would close the hotel following the decision not to renew the lease on the land in the middle of Makati’s business district, and this allowed for considerable efforts to take place in helping staff to find new employment elsewhere. This wasn’t just a case of shutting shop and letting everyone go, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group actively worked on being socially responsible and supportive in many ways, such as by organizing job fairs for staff and reaching out to other hotels to help with possible transfers. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (9)Staff pose for last pictures and General Manager Torsten van Dullemen addresses the crowd during the closing of the hotel

Before we knew it, the final morning had arrived and the atmosphere in the hotel had changed completely. What was a somber and somewhat quiet place the night before (less than 50 guests were in the hotel for the final night) had turned into a busy hive of activity, as almost all members of staff employed by the hotel had arrived on the property in anticipation of a symbolic closing ceremony. We had previously arranged to be the last guests to ever check out, and following the symbolic last checkout, it was time for the real stars of the day to take center stage. 

Mandarin-Oriental-Closing (10)All staff members are leaving the hotel via the red carpet, with General Manager Torsten van Dullemen and colleagues saying their last goodbyes.

The management of the hotel had arranged for a red carpet to be placed in the lobby, and one after another, all employees lined up to walk along it on their way to leave the building via the front door – but not before being thanked and wished farewell by General Manager Torsten van Dullemen and members of the hotel management. This was the moment when many simply couldn’t hold the tears anymore. When the end became real and many last goodbyes were said, friends and colleagues hugged, and countless promises to keep in touch given. Here’s a short video of the last checkout and of the employees leaving the hotel for the final time:

 

If the video does not display correctly on your device, you can also watch it here. 

So where to from here? Will Metro Manila in future be without a Mandarin Oriental? Well, not quite, although there will be a bit of a break before a new hotel opens its doors. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has recently signed a long-term management contract to brand and manage a new luxury 275 room hotel just across the road from its previous location, and the new venture, which will be part of a mixed use development by Ayalaland Hotels & Resorts, is scheduled to open its doors in 2020. The journey will continue and we’re already looking forward to checking in and checking out the new Mandarin Oriental Manila!

Witness The Emotional Goodbye To An Icon As The Mandarin Oriental Manila Closes Its Doors

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