It’s not often that the general manager of an upscale hotel is pre-occupied with a bomb shelter on his property. But then, there aren’t many hotels in the world that survive wars and endure as the Metropole has. I don’t know how this story about our bomb shelter is going to end. It may turn out to be as devoid of surprise as Al Capone’s famous bank vault. But right now, it has the makings of a good story. And so…
Here’s what’s happening in our courtyard. We’re revamping our Bamboo Bar as the last step of a landmark refurbishment. For the new structure, we’ve had to sink pillars for the foundation. As we went down through the existing floor, and through dirt, we hit concrete. Turns out that concrete is the roof of a bomb shelter that served guests of the Metropole during Vietnam’s war with the United States.
One of those guests, reportedly, was the American folk singer Joan Baez. During one air raid, while guests waited out a B-52 strike, ‘Joan Baez asked a man who had brought his guitar to the bunker to play something and, with her intense, pure soprano, started to sing. Suddenly everybody was quiet; a solemn atmosphere came over this place of fear and despair.’
That bit about Joan Baez is from The Most Famous Hotels in the World’s history of the Metropole. And that bunker is the bunker we believe we’ve encountered under the Bamboo Bar.
I’ve searched our records, and we don’t have anything on the bunker. There’s no information about when it was sealed up, or how to access it. None of my staff actually knows where it is. We’ve heard, and now we’ve confirmed, that it was in the courtyard behind the Old Wing of the hotel. That, the story goes, is why our pool is somewhat shorter than we’d like it to be.
We’re excavating bit by bit. As much as I’d like to bring a backhoe in, and get to the bottom of it all, we’re trying to disrupt guests as little as possible. Thus far, we’ve drilled a hole in the roof, as you can see in this picture. And I’m tempted to lower a camera and snap some pictures. I feel a bit like Indiana Jones as he entered the Temple of Doom.
I’ve met people who’ve been in this bunker. A Canadian, who was visiting in 2009, told me he’d spent time in there during the war when was working as a diplomat. I’ve now reached out to my predecessors who managed the renovations of the early 1990s. I don’t know if we’re going to encounter one big room, or five.
Some have told me there are tunnels beneath the hotel that lead to other shelters. At present, no one can say for sure. But stay tuned!