Closure of Hotel Istana: Good Memories

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The five-star Hotel Istana Kuala Lumpur here is set to close its doors come 1 September 2021, after 30 years of operation. Hotel Istana, which has always been the focus of many MCOBA Annual Dinners and RISM Annual Conventions had to stop operations permanently due to the impact of Covid-19.

The hotel’s competitive advantage had declined over a period of time in the face of stringent competition from new and neighbouring hotels and serviced apartments.

The situation has now been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has and continues to impact our hospitality industry and its ability to achieve normality. Covid pandemic claims yet another casualty and another hotel has bit the dust, joining a litany of companies that have done so. How much more can our economy take?

Hotel Istana had been a good hunting ground for me and many others especially when hosting the MCOBA Annual Dinners and performing a make-shift stage at the Mutiara Ballroom, a huge banquet fit for 1,500 pax without impediment of columns. A place is only as good as the people in it.

Its location was very convenient, close to street food area and nice restaurants nearby. Hotel facilities were very good. Buffet breakfast is super!

For many years, Hotel Istana has been the venue of choice for hosting the MCOBA Annual Dinner for the simple reason of the good service they offered and the people are friendly, professional and accommodating. At times, the venue of MCOBA Annual Dinner (MAD) strayed in Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Royale Chulan, Sunway Resort Hotel, the old Hilton Hotel and even the KL Convention Centre. There was at times that MAD was held outside the Klang Valley at the Banquet Hall of Istana Seri Menanti in 2007. But it has always been the Hotel Istana that ultimately, we returned to.

In all my 16 years of involvement with the MCOBA Annual Dinner and Concerts, it has always been at the Hotel Istana as the MAD venue of choice. There’s this personal touch that the fabulous staff provided us.

It starts with the food tasting session of the suggested menu for the night when you could eat and give comments to the chief chef and the kitchen and marketing team so that they could adjust accordingly.

I could still remember the days when would be a busy weekend organising the MAD and the Concerts at Hotel Istana. It would start at the early mornings of a Saturday morning when the Mutiara Ballroom would be free after the last event on Friday night was over. This is when the technical teams, the audio-visual people and the props people begin their business; laying cables, putting up mega speakers and stage lightings, setting up control centre, doing the setup on stage and placing tables the banquet hall. All ably supervised and assisted with the technical team of Hotel Istana.

By the time the organising committee check-in at about 10am on that Saturday morning, everything would be laid out according to plan, ready for sound checks and table set-ups. In the busy and hectic finishing activities, we would skip lunch or go out for a quick bite at Restoran Istana Maju, a Mamak joint at the back of Hotel Istana.

By the time the sound checks and microphone test were over, it would already be Maghrib and the MAD was about to start, and everyone would be dashing off to their designated rooms, to freshen up and get spruced to welcome the guests. Hotel Istana gave at least 10 rooms (5 complimentary + 5 under MCOBA) to the organising committee with the Dinner Committee Chairman getting the executive suite. Once upon a time during MAD 2011, the Dinner chairman, Allahyarham Dato’ Faidz Darus forego his suite and passed it to me, the Director of the Concert. May Allah bless his good soul.

If you are in the JPM, the MAD committee and the Concert committee at the same time, like me for many years, you’ll have to be all over the places at any time during the MAD. You need to welcome the VVIP, you need to monitor the progress and scheduling of proceedings and you also need to liaise with the cast and crew. It gets worst when you are also part of the cast. You need to forego the seat down dining and go to that reserved room for the Ballerz for make-up and costume. There is also that long walk via the side door through the kitchen of the Mutiara Ballroom (amidst the chefs and Bangla waiters) to be on standby at the backstage to come onstage to act your part and entertained the diners.

When the VVIP took leave and returned home, it’s when the real party started. There would be a dance floor placed in front of the stage for the party-goers to strut the beat from anytime from dangdut to rock song played by the ‘After Minight’ band. There would be people mingling at the foyer of the Mutiara, eating supper, snapping photos and meeting friends. As for the cast & crew, they’ll over at the Lodge across the Istana Hotel for a treat by the Dinner Chairman.

The next morning hungover is cured with a hearty breakfast at the Hotel’s Taman Sari Brasserie, a delightful brasserie that serves a wide range of local and international cuisines.

That’s a way to go on loving a place, or a person. To miss it. In fact, to go away, to put yourself in the state of missing, is sometimes the simplest way to preserve a memory.

So, thank you Hotel Istana. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for being a most gracious host. You shall be sorely missed. Since I found out about this news yesterday, a lot of people have also said they can never get a hotel that they can make it their own.  Bye-bye Hotel Istana.

So, I say…
Thank you for the hosting, the MAD we’re having,
Thanks for all the joy you’re bringing,
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty,
What would life be?
Without a hotel or a dinner, what are we?
So, I say thank you for the memories,
For giving it to me.

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