The famed Bengal Room may be closed to the public, but the renewed Fairmont Empress is still an atraction in its own right for Victoria visitors, even if you're not actually staying at the grand hotel.
If the former Empress was Queen Elizabeth the Second, the new and improved version is all Kate Middleton: fresh, modern, and sophisticated.
Reserving the Bengal Room strictly for private events is one element of a major restoration the 1908 hotel is undergoing. The crawling ivy that covered the facade is gone. To date, about half of the guest rooms have been renovated, with the lobby, health club, spa, and remaining guest suites still to be renewed. Work will be fully complete next year. However, the hotel has just launched three new dining spaces: Q at the Empress Restaurant, Q Bar, and the Lobby Lounge.
Designed by San Francisco's Puccini Group, the new spaces have touches like a purple jewel-like host stand, a bar with satin brass detailing and a collection of glass decanters, hardwood floors reminiscnet of the hotel's original, and textured-fabric chandeliers.
The Lobby Lounge is where you can get Tea at the Empress—complete with scones and preserves. At night it turns into a Champagne and cocktail bar with live music.
Q was formerly the Empress Room. That and the adjoining bar are much brighter than before; some of the walls have been taken down, so it’s much more open and airy. The redesign has combined historic details like the coffered ceiling with things like funky, cloudlike light fixtures and a cool quartzite bar. Q also has tables on the hotel’s front terrace. You can get blankets there to keep warm when it cools off at night and take in the gorgeous view of the inner harbour.
The restaurant focuses on local fare, including all sorts of seafood such as Dungeness crab, steamed mussels, Pacific salmon, halibut, ocotopus, and more. Share plates show up too, with charcuterie and cheese boards featuring cured meats and other items from B.C. farms and produers.
The changes are part of a $40 million renovation that owners Nat and Flora Bosa announced after they purchased the iconic space in 2014.
In other Empress news, the Bengal tiger pelt that was stolen off the lounge's wall in June has never been found.