The Leela Palace Reborn and now with ZLB23

The Leela Palace Hotel Bengaluru reflects the architectural style of the Royal Palace of Mysore.

The Leela Palace Hotel in Bengaluru is a happening place, discovers Alok Chandra

Inaugurated in 2001, the Leela Palace Hotel Bangalore (Bengaluru) may almost be termed decadent. Built in a baroque art-deco style modelled on the Mysore Palace, with copper-plated domes (now green with oxidation), ornate golden-red ceilings and extravagant interiors set in nine acres of lush greenery, the hotel was the go-to place for corporate honchos and top-dogs in this rapidly-expanding wannabe metropolis, never mind the top dollar prices charged.

Interior of ZLB23 (Zia’s Lounge & Bar) a Kyoto Speakeasy Bar that opened in February 2023 at the Leela Palace

Invariably that position was challenged by new hotels that came up in the last two decades in central Bangalore: the ITC Gardenia, Shangri-La, The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, The Conrad, and JW Marriott UB City (to mention just a few), all chipping away at the Leela’s customer base and clientele. Also, in 2008 the new airport was set up 45 km to the north, further eroding the hotel’s customer base.

In between, the hotel’s owners ran into financial problems, and many hotel properties in India were taken over by a new owner in September 2019. And then came the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, which just decimated hotel and hospitality businesses countrywide.

I trace the renaissance of the Leela Palace to the induction of Madhav Sehgal as general manager in August 2021. Today it is once again the ‘go-to’ place for the well-heeled, witness the fact that overall revenues have doubled from the pre-pandemic period (2019-20) with some 60% of beverage revenues coming from wine alone!

Of course, the hotel’s iconic dining spaces continue to serve great food — Le Cirque, the Leela’s signature Continental restaurant; Jamavar, the Indian speciality restaurant; Zen, a Pan- Asian restaurant; Citrus, the all-day dining space and The Library Bar.

General Manager Madhav Sehgalas

Jamavar was relaunched in April 2022 by bringing back Chef Farman Ali, who had set up this iconic restaurant 20 years ago and is back to being the place where almost every overseas visitor to
Bangalore is taken for at least one meal. Le Cirque Bangalore is one of only two such outlets in India and the cuisine is simply over the top. The ambience at the hotel is true Indian luxury, South
India style.

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What’s new is Zia’s Lounge & Bar or ZLB23, a Kyoto Speakeasy Bar started in February 2023 that’s helping to build relationships with the next generation of discerning guests in the city. Zia is a near-mythical person who has travelled the world to set up a hidden bar. The entrance to the bar is through the Zen kitchen and 23 is the street address of the hotel. The Speakeasy concept seems to have resonated with select customers. Attendance at the bar and word-of-mouth played a major role in spreading awareness, as did its unique identity and landmark events.

Mahdev Sehgal, who led the team that conceptualised and implemented the project in record time, says, “The three pillars of ZLB23 are Prohibition Cocktails, Magnetic Music, and Fabled Food.” Although wines are also served, the outlet uses mainly Japanese spirits in its cocktails in keeping with its identity and has a live band every night.

In August, ZLB23 featured a bar takeover by Paradiso Barcelona (#1 World’s 50 Best Bars) with the owner, Giacomo Giannotti present. Earlier bar takeovers were by Atlas Singapore, Vesper Bangkok, and Handshake Speakeasy Mexico City. The coming months will feature takeovers by Himkok Oslo and COA Hong Kong (#1, Asia’s Best Bars 2023). Also in the pipeline are some new event venues and a continuing calendar of curated and speciality events like the three dinners at Le Cirque a year back, featuring Chef Thomas Buhner, a 3 Michelin Star chef.