By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
TEARS WERE shed when the iconic Prince Rama cinema in Bangkok’s Bang Rak district closed down in 2010 and today they are being shed again – this time with joy – as the Prince bounces back to life, this time as a brand-new contemporary hostel called Prince Theatre Heritage Stay.
Tucked away in an alley off Charoen Krung Road, the original structure remains the same, though it has been reinforced to ensure safety, while a new layout provides modern facilities and common spaces for urban living.
The brand-new, cinema-themed Prince Theatre Heritage Stay hotel evokes memories of the good old days.
Part of Thailand’s Treasury Department’s conservation and development project to promote age-old communities as heritage tourist attractions, the makeover of the old cinema is down to Montara Hospitality Group and its subsidiary Heritage Stay, which spent Bt60 million transforming the historic building into a chic cinema-themed hotel that really works.
“My family started in the hospitality business by opening the luxury Trisara Phuket Villa & Residences. We have now broadened our portfolio to include a luxury boutique hotel and hostel. In 2016, we refurbished and restored an old Lanna wooden house in Lampang to serve as an art centre operated by the Niyom Pattamasaevi Foundation. It was a success and we want to continue our architectural conservation project in Bangkok,” says Kittisak Pattamasaevi, chief commercial officer of Montara Hospitality Group, which also owns the Phraya Palazzo boutique hotel next to the Chao Phraya river.
The Cinema Social Scenes offers daily screenings of classic blockbusters, starting at 6.30pm.
“The Treasury Department set up a conservation and development programme to help residents in many communities renovate their houses and landscapes. The department is also very open to having the private sector take part in developing local properties, so we proposed turning the Prince Theatre Heritage Stay into a sustainable business model.”
This historic building was built in 1912 and first served as a royal casino – one of Bangkok’s last five gambling houses in the reign of King Chulalongkorn. It became a major entertainment venue surrounded by Thai-style taverns, pawnbrokers, opium dens, fresh markets and brothels but became a little too raucous and was eventually shut down.
The Montara Hospitality Group invested Bt60 million to refurbish and restore its newest property.
In 1917, with the film industry expanding its reach to Thailand, Payon Pattanakorn Company converted the building into the Prince Theatre and screened classic silent and black-and-white movies.
In 1957, it fell into the hands of entrepreneur Sa-ngob Hetrakul and was renamed Prince Rama in reference to the widescreen process known as Cinerama. It quickly became popular, screening Hollywood, Hong Kong and Thai blockbusters that drew movie-goers of all ages.
The Prince Rama encountered a new set of challenges when shopping complexes started popping up around town incorporating the multiplex cinema and causing stand-alone cinemas to go bust. The owners responded by turning into a cinema showing nude and porn movies but even that wasn’t enough to help it survive.
Old movie tickets
“King Chulalongkorn wanted to abolish slavery in Thailand, so he gradually closed hundreds of betting houses in an attempt to stop the practice of selling wives and children to pay a debt. The Bang Rak royal casino moved here and operated until films arrived and the casinos were turned into cinemas,” says Chittipan Srikasikorn, managing director of Heritage Stay.
“The Prince Rama could seat about 700 and the tickets were priced at Bt7. The original building had one and a half floors made of wood and was covered with an old zinc roof, once abandoned became a residence for the homeless. We spent a full year on the renovations, doing everything we could to conserve its charming architecture and the vintage atmosphere.”
The Box Office Bar and Cafe spoils movie lovers with an exclusive creation of classic film-inspired cocktails and mocktails.
The two-floor hostel, which opened in February, spans 1,400 square metres and its entrance transports guests back to the good old days with colourful Art Deco style windows and high ceilings.
Smart and functional, the ground floor is home to a lobby and the Cinema Social Scenes equipped with a large screen and a collectible laser projector, which can be turned into a stage or auditorium for talk shows and art workshops.
Alongside, a vintage office-like gallery displays black-and-white photographs and collectibles from the 1910s to the 1990s and guests can learn about the history of the former landlords, the community and then latest refurbishment while the staff check them in.
The lobby shares space with an exhibition of collectible antiques and photographs depicting the Prince Rama, the Bang Rak community and the hotel construction.
Also on view is a collection of old cinema tickets, movie rental contracts from Warner Brothers and other film studios, vintage flatirons, old-fashioned stereos and construction images depicting how the theatre has changed.
Focusing on convenience and comfort, the hotel offers 28 guestrooms in the categories of private suites and shared rooms. The four luxury suites are decorated in different designs to reflect the building’s history.
The cinema manager’s chamber has morphed into an elegant Prince Theatre Master Suite.
The Prince Theatre Master Suite took over the manager’s chamber and its interior design draws on the days of black-and-white film, while the Prince Rama Master Suite is adorned with vintage handbills and uses a palette of red and black to create a sexy look in the style of a nude movie.
The posh duplex-level suite Casino Loft brings to mind a scene in a James Bond movie, where 007 and a sexy girl huddle in a casino’s private room while the Chinese Opera Loft suite takes guests back to the glory days of a Bang Rak gambling house.
Luxurious and airy, all suites offer a living space with 40” LED TV, working table, a king-size bed, coffee and tea making facilities, wardrobe, safety box and a private bathroom with hot shower complete with all amenities. They’re priced at a very reasonable Bt4,200.
. Guests can choose between a variety of shared rooms, adorned with old-fashioned handbills.
The hostel style accommodation, meanwhile, ranges from a shared duplex with six beds, a shared room with single beds, a shared room with double beds and shared rooms of four and six beds for ladies only. Entrance is with a key card and each attractively decorated room comes with hangers and lockers and an en-suite bathroom with separate shower and toilet and kitted out with a hair dryer, towels, shampoo and shower gel.
And while each corner of the shared facilities is on the small side, they are also comfortable, coming with a privacy curtain, reading light, electric sockets and a private locker at the head of the bed. Prices range from Bt1,000 to Bt1,200.
The Sky Fall mocktail pays tribute to James Bond.
All-day dining room the Box Office Bar and Cafe serves a choice of continental-style breakfast or guests are free to order dishes from popular stalls and restaurants around the neighbourhood and eat in.
In the evening, the bar offers a selection of creative cocktails and mocktails inspired by several of the classic movies that were screened here. For example, Borsalino (1970) is blended with rum, amaretto, jasmine syrup and lemon, Romeo & Juliet (1964) mingles rose-infused vodka, infused Bianco Vermouth and chocolate butter and the Sky Fall mocktail is a healthy mix of tomato juice, Thai spice syrup and lime.
“The hotel is a short walk from Taksin BTS station, Sathorn pier and the Creative District. Bang Rak is famous for its delectable street food, some of which appears in the Bangkok Michelin Guide. Staying with us, guests can indulge in the charming theatre atmosphere and during the day we offer a walking tour programme to explore the bakeries, restaurants and important places in the community,” Kittisak says.
And, of course, there’s movie night with a bill of fare that changes every day. Among the golden oldies showing this month daily except Sunday at 6.30pm are “Doll Face” (1945), “The Stranger” (1946), Charlie Chaplin's “The Immigrant” (1917), “The Women in Green” (1945), “Suddenly” (1954), “D.O.A” (1949) and “The Little Princess” (1939).
Prince Theatre Heritage Stay is located at 441/1 Charoen Krung Road of Bangkok.
For more information or reservations, call (02) 090 2858 or visit www.PrinceHeritage.com.