Old hotels & history books: Rivetting even if you don’t want to live there


It’s hardly surprising that Paris has, what’s alleged to be, the “oldest restaurant in the world.” Apparently, Restaurant Procope in the 6th arrondisement is 328 years old and its menu betrays this (calf’s head casserole). Here dined Ben Franklin and the French poet Paul Verlaine. Within its venerable rooms are many historical artifacts and oil paintings.

The Oloffson in Port au Prince

The Oloffson in Port au Prince

The Ozy piece started me thinking about old establishments – restaurants, pubs, hotels – and how essential they are to the ethos of a city. How they give gravitas and grace to an urban landscape (and narrative) that might otherwise be irredeemably dull. None more so perhaps than the Hotel Oloffson here in Port au Prince. For all that the white gingerbread mansion does not offer the best (most comfortable) accommodation, or meals, it’s as much on everyone’s sightseeing list as, say, the Neg Mawon.

Of course, I’m rather biased, having loved the Oloffson in its fictional avataar as the Trianon of Graham Greene’s fabulous novel ‘The Comedians’.

Funnily, it’s not even that old, having been built only in the late 19th century and only opening as a hotel in 1935, when sea captain Werner Gustav Oloffson, who leased it at the time, converted it. It may not have great age but it has had great names. As has oft been said, it was considered a sort of Caribbean Greenwich Village with many famous artists and writers frequenting the hotel in the ‘50s and 60s and other celebrities such as Jacquie O and Mick Jagger following in the 70s and ‘80s.

But then the pall descended on Haiti as much as the hotel.


Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac