Exuding classic Colonial charm while providing modern amenities in a convenient location, the iconic Sarova Stanley Hotel, at the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, has delighted visitors since 1902.
The moment you pass through the century-old revolving doors — whether you’re a celebrity, dignitary or “just” a tourist, you enter another world: the hassle of a bustling Equatorial metropolis gives way to cool, almost stuffy, Victorian elegance. The woodwork is dark, the color scheme trending toward maroon and gold.
Arriving in East Africa after hours and hours in an airplane is made easier by booking the Sarova Stanley as your first hotel on the continent. The chain (which operates eight hotels in Kenya) has a kiosk in the middle of the arrivals area where you can stop to let them know you’re ready for their airport collection service to whisk you downtown in an air-conditioned van.
Then there’s the on-site staff, which couldn’t be more gracious. Each day at 5 p.m., the hotel’s Brand Ambassador gives a tour of the property, highlighting its history. Dominic (who was on duty when I was there) pointed out the historic black-and-white photographs of famous guests — Teddy Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Ernest Hemingway, Lord Baden-Powell of Boy Scout fame — and told stories of the early years, when big game hunts were a macho treat.
He also cautioned me not to ring the bell in the hotel’s Exchange Bar (why? whosoever does that, buys a round for the house).
The reason for the name? It’s said to be the location of Nairobi’s first stock exchange. Note the fans (left) that don’t rotate, but wave slowly back and forth as if propelled by invisible hands. This is the place to try Kenya’s “signature” cocktail, the Dawa (vodka, lime, ice and honey).
After my tour, I told Dominic that I wanted to spend the next day touring the Nairobi National Park and other local sites. He put me in touch with a tour company vetted by The Sarova Stanley (and, yes, everything was perfect).
The hotel’s buffet breakfast is served in the Thorn Tree Room which houses the successor tree to the original. When the town was just a railroad workers’ camp early in the 20th century, people attached messages to that first thorn tree — called the “original post office of Nairobi”. (Today’s messages read more like love notes to the hotel.)
There’s free Wi-Fi in each of the 217 rooms, a fully-equipped business center, a heated pool and a health club with gym, steam, sauna and massage facilities.
I had a surprisingly authentic Asian dinner in the hotel’s too-twee-named Thai Chi Restaurant. My personal “test” for a cuisine promising a taste of the country formerly known as Siam is its most common dish: Pad Thai. It was excellent — no doubt because the chef in the kitchen of this Kenyan hotel was indeed from Thailand.
Psst — The Sarova Stanley, a five-star hotel, was the lodging recommentation of Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times for more than a decade, who penned “36 Hours in Nairobi” for the newspaper’s recent Africa-themed travel section.
Here’s a look at one of the tasty dishes at Thai Chi that you might want to post on Pinterest!
(Photos courtesy of the Sarova Stanley and Susan McKee, who stayed at the hotel while on assignment for another publication)