It’s been a while since I stayed at a hotel like the Vagabond. Articulating my emotion into an appropriate phrase, owner Satinder Garcha quipped, “I didn’t want it to look like an art gallery.” This perhaps, was an insight from an hotelier who had travelled to the best art hotels of the world for inspiration, but returned with corrective measures of how ‘not’ to make a hotel. I, for one, was overwhelmed with what I was looking at when I walked in: a warm background textured with contemporary art pieces—a reﬁned collection of numerous paintings and photographs all synchronised on the dark red walls of the lobby level. I instinctively reached for my camera to take a few photos while I was being checked in.
Turns out, Garcha is a photographer too, and most of the work comes from his personal collection. Inclined to nudge at his passion in artistic ways, he aims to more than contribute personally to the art scene in the city. The ﬁrst hotel in Singapore with an Artist in Residence programme, where well-known artists are invited to stay at the hotel for a few months in return for their art contribution to the hotel—I was met with renowned photographer Julia Calfee who took multiple photo frames in the hotel with her ‘Inside the Chelsea Hotel’ collection, and screened ‘A Glacier’s Requiem’, her short ﬁlm at the Vagabond Salon. The salon is also the place for socialising over a cocktail with the artist during the Artist Cocktail Hour, and perhaps watch an independent ﬁlm—one of the many creative engagements at the hotel.
The ambition is simple and quite eﬀective, “A hotel that is experiential, and oﬀers guests more than just accommodation.” I walked into my room (elegantly designed with no element, including the shower cap, missing patterns) to ﬁnd three postcards neatly bound by ribbon—a welcome gift—also photographs by Garcha. Who invites a guest like that? A vintage table clock, a rotary dial telephone among other things, adorn corners of the room: establishing tangible old-world hospitality before the modern service kicks in.
Downstairs, 5th Quarter compliments the hotel with its gastronomy. Ex Chef Andrew Nocente cures meat right where he can see it—in the kitchen; and combines the ﬂavours of his Italian roots and Australian homeland for a ﬁne dining experience that harmonises with Garcha’s philosophy. Therefore, the tables are booked out for lunch and dinner with a greater number of people at the restaurant than the guests residing in the 42 rooms. The most obvious question is why Garcha has no such a hotel in India. He points out possibly correctly how modern India will need more time to inculcate the taste of an experiential hotel that does not fall into the category of the accustomed. It’s deﬁnitely a learning I take back, and a wish to come here again. —Anwesha Sanyal