GEORGE TOWN, Aug 2 – Stepping into 23 Love Lane is like going back in time to idyllic childhood days spent at Grandma’s big house... where everyone lived together and spent evenings lounging in the open courtyard.
Managed by the Love Lane Group, 23 Love Lane is not really a hotel so much as it is an experience for guests who wish to go back to a time when window shutters and doors were left open for ventilation and the only concession to privacy was provided by sheer cotton curtains.
With 10 suites within the 150-year-old fully restored bungalow and its adjoining buildings, the boutique hotel offers a cosy, quiet and “homey” environment for its guests.
Hotel general manager Andy Fong said the hotel was originally an 18th century family mansion complete with stables, servants’ quarters and a separate building to the side for the kitchen.
Over the years, the stables were converted into rooms and the kitchen building was once used as a shophouse selling sundry goods.
“During excavation and restoration works, we recovered many pieces of pottery and even horseshoes from the grounds and instead of throwing these away, we kept them,” Fong said as he showed us the pieces proudly displayed in a glass cabinet and within a glass-topped table.
Some of the pieces of pottery are believed to date back to the colonial times and could be antiques but Fong said they have not been tested so they are used as part of the hotel décor instead.
The hotel is now divided into four wings; the Anglo Indian Bungalow with three suites at the main building, the Straits Eclectic Building at the stables section with four rooms, the 1920’s Jack Roof Annex with two rooms at the servants’ quarters section where the roof has been entirely replaced by recovered old jack roof tiles and a duplex unit at the Indian Shop House section where the kitchens used to be.
Instead of generic hotel art, 23 Love Lane is furnished with locally acquired antiques and paintings which are often thought provoking.
More than 140 art pieces such as oil paintings, photographs and sculptures can be found throughout the hotel and its grounds; some more modern pieces a stark contrast against the egg shell blue or cream of the hotel’s colour palette.
The Love Lane Group had hired specialised heritage conservationists to ensure that the whole mansion and its accompanying buildings were restored to its original condition.
“We kept everything as original as possible as we intend to apply to UNESCO for recognition of the conservation works on this building,” Fong said.
The architectural firm in charge of the restoration works, BYG Architecture Sdn Bhd, had also recently won the gold award for the conservation work of 23 Love Lane at the PAM (Malaysian Institute of Architects) Awards 2013.
The boutique hotel is already building a reputation as one of the best places to stay in the heritage city of George Town with weekends fully booked on most months.
Though located in a place that was once notorious both as a red light area and a hangout for gangs, the hotel is definitely one of the factors that has given the place a whole new vibe.
23 Love Lane acquired two other pre-war shophouses a few hundred metres from the mansion.
“We are unable to buy shophouses right next to the mansion so we bought nearby shophouses and convert those into suites,” Fong said.
One of the additions is a three-bedroom suite called the Muntri Suite located along Jalan Muntri just down the road from the mansion.
“That is meant for families and so far we have been receiving bookings for wedding entourages and traditional Chinese wedding ceremonies,” he said.
Another new addition is Stewart Suite, another shophouse converted into a one-bedroom suite with a jacuzzi that is meant for honeymooners or small families.
“Our goal is to expand to have more different styles of suites nearby so that our guests can walk to the mansion to check out and for their breakfast at Steaks & Frites,” he said.
Unlike other hotels, 23 Love Lane does not have a fully operating restaurant as its adjoining Steak & Frites restaurant is only open for breakfast and dinner.
“We decided to keep it simple so Steak & Frites only offers one item on the menu, steak, and drinks,” Fong said.
He believes that by concentrating on offering the best steaks there is in town, it is more than enough to keep the small restaurant going.
So if you are looking for a hotel with a relaxed yet luxurious vibe, check out 23 Love Lane. It’s like Grandma’s house... but updated.
This story was first published in the print edition of The Malay Mail, August 1, 2013.