By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
The 1914 bill belonged to Lawrence of Arabia and despite the rumours, the enigmatic British intelligence officer did pay it, hotel owner Armen Mazloumian insists.
?I don?t know where the story that he didn?t came from. One journalist must have written this and others copied without bothering to check,? the Armenian manager said over a beer at the hotel?s oak bar.
Almost a century since it opened, the Baron hotel still attracts visitors nostalgic for an age when the ancient Syrian city of
The Baron has been buffeted by the political and financial swells of an unstable region but it still holds a special place in some visitors? hearts.
If Mazloumian likes a customer, he offers them the room where Agatha Christie stayed. Beside the room, a poster advertises the ?safety, rapidity, economy? of a seven-day journey from
But if that room is occupied, a guest might find themselves in the room used by T.E. Lawrence, aviator Charles Lindbergh, Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or King Faisal of
?We?re very careful about giving out historical rooms,? Mazloumian said.
The latest blow to the Baron was this year?s war between
?It is still touch-and-go. Last year we covered our costs. This year does not look so good,? Mazloumian said.
Hunt the barman
The Baron?s bar lounge still has Thonet chairs dating from the 1930s and British leather armchairs in desperate need of upholstering.
A map hangs on one wall showing the region?s archaeological sites, including
?During the Second World War, British officers practised fox hunting in the hotel, making the barman Yezegel, better known as Peter, the fox,? Mazloumian said.
?Our family has had nothing but bad luck,? Mazloumian said.
His father was a client of
As the hotel has fallen into genteel disrepair, the world outside its doors has changed too. Parts of
But for some, the Baron is still the place to go.
?If you want to know who is in town, go for a beer at the Baron?s terrace. It has become an archaeologists? hotel,? said German Kay Kohlmeyer, who had been working on a dig nearby.
The breed is no stranger to the Baron.
Source: Reuters, 6 November 2006
Also published in “Khaleej Times” of