Long before Mumbai became home to the members-only Soho House, long before it acquired a dozen or more luxury hotels with their own versions of the members-only club, there was The Chambers at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. In an era when India’s leading industrialists, the powerful corporate elite, entrepreneurs and its creative powerhouses only had the British-established gymkhanas to hang out and network in, The Chambers at the Taj billed itself as India’s first exclusive business club. It soon became fertile ground to exchange ideas, crack important deals and indulge in a spot of power meetings. Think of it as a luxurious den for industrialists, aristocrats and businessmen to relax in, socialise or even execute a transaction.
“The list of members at The Chambers boasts of eminent industrialists, entertainers, media personalities, sports stars, writers, authors and other prominent people from the community,” says Prabhat Verma, Executive Vice President – Operations, South India, International & Ancillary Businesses, IHCL, with obvious pride, though he refuses to offer any names.
Chambers Lawn, Mumbai.
Today, The Chambers may have several clones but this powerhouse brand from the Taj Hotel is undergoing a metamorphosis to meet the aspirations of the younger, bolder, adventurous generation of entrepreneurs and creative minds across business, science, arts and literature. The central tenets of privacy, exclusivity and the propensity for plush décor remain. What’s changed is the slew of exclusive offerings, augmented features and services. The privileges are bigger, better and far more glamorous.
Reimagining The Chambers
Some of the exciting new offerings at this exclusive enclave include a host of privileges, which can be enjoyed across the globe, at TAJ, Vivanta and SeleQtions hotels. The Chambers Global Membership offers a host of curated benefits along with its classic suite of features. Verma reveals, “Amongst other benefits is an opportunity to own a lifetime membership. It allows individual members the opportunity to transfer this legacy, one-time, only to their son or daughter, providing a rare chance to the next generation to enjoy the unparalleled benefits of The Chambers. The membership also offers exclusive ‘Chambers’ room rates, complimentary upgrades, access to pool and fitness centres, apart from instant Platinum membership to Taj InnerCircle and vouchers for spa and restaurant usage on initiation. Members can enjoy complimentary room upgrades, curated experiences and events, including sundowners, chef’s table, coffee cupping, and events with the finest wineries, breweries and distilleries.”
Or high-profile events such as the recent debut of Nigella Lawson, who hosted a quintessential London-themed bespoke culinary experience featuring her signature menu at The Chambers in The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. “Over the years the profile of the global achiever and new India has evolved, and with it, so has The Chambers,” contends Verma. “The benefits and privileges earlier were restricted to the Chambers locations. Under the new plan, members can now avail the facilities of the business centre, as well as the wet areas of the hotels such as the swimming pool and gymnasium at our three brand hotels. Members also get access to Taj Clubs at all the Taj hotels, with their round-the-clock butler service, which was once open as special benefits to the exclusive category of the Taj Club rooms.”
With the new Chambers Global Membership program, IHCL is also redefining its F&B philosophy to serve up experimental menus created with fresh and organic produce; the focus remains on power breakfasts, superfoods, and wines and spirits that are exclusive to The Chambers.
The Chambers at the Taj Mahal, New Delhi is currently under renovation. Its new design allows for seamless integration between working, unwinding and networking. The Chambers in Hyderabad, Chennai, Taj Lands End, Mumbai, and at Dubai are also slated to undergo a physical transformation in the next phase, in 2021, the details of which are still being fleshed out. “The idea behind the redesign of The Chambers is to retain its unparalleled legacy, and yet infuse new codes of luxury. The attempt is to weave the creative design with modern luxury and technology, even as we retain the warmth that is intrinsic to the brand,” Verma offers his take on the design re-look.
India’s first private business club is expanding aggressively and will soon be in two world-class business cities - in London, at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, and at Taj West End in Bangalore. “Each Chambers has its own distinct style and brings with it a sense of place. Taj West End is known for its colonial and rich architectural history. The hotel boasts of a large green cover of 18 acres in the centre of Bangalore,” says Verma. “Its colonial architecture and lush greenery will be integrated as part of the design. In London, The Chambers is being redefined with a contemporary touch. Smart meeting rooms, exciting dining areas and a bar will come together to reflect the London city’s vibe.”
Delving into the Past
To put into perspective the role that The Chambers has played in India’s corporate history, it may be interesting to take a walk back in time. Verma looks back at the 1970s when Mumbai had enough spaces for entertainment and socialising, but there was no exclusive space where business leaders could meet and conduct business in privacy. “The idea of The Chambers emerged from this gap in the market. It was conceptualised and curated way back in 1975 and opened its doors on May 1 at The Taj Mahal Palace. Its philosophy centred on providing guests with the utmost personalization and exclusivity.”
The ‘office away from your office’ was complemented by the highest level of comfort, cuisine and unmatched personal service for those times. Each Chambers continues to offer great views of the neighbourhood, is ensconced in lush greenery or, as in the case of The Taj Mahal Mumbai, fringed by a luxuriant lawn. Each is a luxury oasis far away from the hubbub of the cities they are in. There are now seven The Chambers – in The Taj Mahal, New Delhi; The Taj Mahal Palace and Taj Lands End in Mumbai; Taj Coromandel, Chennai; Taj Krishna, Hyderabad; Taj Bengal Kolkata, and Taj Dubai.
The Taj Chambers at Taj Krishna, Hyderabad
The Chambers are designed to reflect the beauty of the location and city they are in. If The Chambers at The Taj Mahal Palace opens to magnificent views of The Gateway of India, the one in Delhi references its regal past, particularly the reign of the powerful Mughals, in its décor. If the Chambers at Taj Bengal, Kolkata is characterised by views of the tree canopies in the neighbourhood and its nostalgic take on the Raj through its design, The Chambers at Taj Lands End, Mumbai is dominated by stunning views of the twinkling lights of Bandra-Worli sea link in the evenings, while The Chambers at Taj Dubai is a breezy, contemporary space with modern furniture but antique art, artefacts and the black and white photographs of India’s erstwhile royalty.
The Chambers, The Taj Dubai
Admission into The Chambers was strictly by invitation, and continues to remain that way; applications are put a careful evaluation based on different parameters for individual and corporate memberships. Of course, getting a recommendation from another member can help matters. While Verma refuses to divulge the membership cost, it is rumoured to be in the range of Rs 20 lakh just to join the club, with an annual fee of about Rs 3 lakh. But those are just unofficial numbers. What’s more pertinent is that The Chambers, in its new avatar, will allow Taj to compete in a market where every luxury hotel worth its gilded name, has a club to offer.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury. her columns