One of the most stunning buildings in Moscow, the Hotel Metropol was built between 1899 and 1907 as a symbol of Russian prosperity on the world stage, employing no fewer than five famous architects and two artists to design and adorn the Art Nouveau structure. At its grand opening in 1905, it was met with incredible fanfare which included the singer Fyodor Chaliapin.
Feeling was already growing against the Russian Tsar and his family and Chaliapin’s choice of song was seditious amongst the high society to whom he sang. Nevertheless, the performance was well-received and he was rewarded handsomely by the crowd who had come to witness the grand opening. The Hotel Metropol has also gone down in history as the last hotel built before the Russian Revolution so as a symbol of aristocracy, it was relatively short-lived. It was reinforced during the revolution in 1917 and a year later, became the first seat of the Bolshevik government. Already in its short history, its prestige was enormous but what would become of the opulent symbol of the old oppressive monarchy?
Hotel Metropol Games & Casino
By 1925, it had stopped being a symbol of government and it slowly transformed itself into a centre of leisure for the communist elite. 1925 was the year that the Hotel Metropol stepped on the path of becoming one of Moscow’s, and of Soviet Russia’s, most prestigious casinos when it held the first Moscow International Chess Tournament. Players from all over the world, including several former world champions from the USA, Cuba and Germany, put the hotel on the map. The tournament drew enormous crowds but still it did not have a casino.
Six years later in 1931, and just a short few years before the beginning of World War II, the nationalised building was converted again to a hotel, allowing foreign and Soviet dignitaries to experience the luxury of modern Moscow. This would include all the luxuries – luxury rooms and facilities and a casino. Visitors in those early years included playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw and Bertolt Brecht, and composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Vertinsky. The following few decades saw further prestigious names. American writer John Steinbeck, actress Marlene Dietrich and Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung all stayed at the hotel, and probably had a flutter in the casino while there.
Restoration in the Late and Post-Soviet Era
Throughout the 1980s, relations between Russia and The West softened, allowing for the slow introduction of private investment. A major trade bilateral deal with Finnish investors allowed external private companies into Moscow to renovate the dilapidated hotel. The five-year programme restored the original structure to its former glory and improved the aesthetics. The prestigious hotel was once again an impressive symbol of the city. The re-designers paid careful attention to the original fabric of the hotel. It reopened in 1991 just twenty days before the Soviet Flag was lowered for the final time over all government buildings in Russia. The International Commission responsible for designating hotel star ratings gave the Metropol 5 stars, the first ever anywhere in the country. With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, westerners could freely enter Russia, to see its history and buildings, to visit the Metropol and play the games at its casino.
The casino which was tucked away inside the Hotel Metropol was always a modest affair compared to the grand glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. It closed in 2009 but the hotel remains open, attracting visitors from all over the world. It was housed in a small room and was reported to have had just eight tables – a stark contrast to some of the biggest hotels and casinos elsewhere. It was sold into private ownership in 2012 and there are presently no plans for the new management to open a casino within the grand historic halls.
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