The picture-perfect shophouses that make Penang’s George Town so charming—and a UNESCO World Heritage Site—are far from virgin territory when it comes to hotel real estate, but the newest set may be the coolest yet. Opened this month, Loke Thye Kee Residences’ five loft-like suites are a component of a bigger restoration project of a historical corner of town, and it’s easily said that they’re the most resplendent part.
The Look: The residences are housed in five converted shophouses that date back to the 1870s, which required Singapore-based architects Ministry of Design—who previously claimed their fame in town with the renovation of the Macalister Mansion—to jump through a series of protective hoops put in place by the government during their two years of remodeling them into contemporary suites. Old in structure and new in style, the suites have retained their original brick walls, wood floors, and high ceilings, now matched with pops of Straits Chinese colors, floridly patterned rugs and pillows, and works from local artist Ch’ng Kiah Kiean.
The Rooms: Rather than being chopped into different areas, the suites are open-plan and flowing like modern city lofts, with the vanity and closet space efficiently set in a stand-alone glass partition. By day, the rooms flood with light from the large windows overlooking Penang Road, a thoroughfare that supplies prime people-watching from the window-side couches; by night, they glow with moody LED cove-lighting that rims the soaring ceilings. Amenities are generous and tailored to George Town, including an array of local snacks—coconut cookies, instant white-curry noodles, peanut brittle—and a “survival kit” including natural bug repellant, a street-food map, and George, a small stuffed animal handmade by members of a local charity for people with disabilities. Each suite also has a mosaic-tiled patio overlooking the gardened back area, best enjoyed with the room-service-only breakfast.
The Appeal: The residences derive their name from the original Loke Thye Kee building just around the corner, which dates back to 1919 and means “House of Happiness,” known among locals as the restaurant where so many matchmaking tea lunches, weddings, and birthdays once took place. After 80 years in business, it shuttered and sat in neglect until local development group 1919 Global took it over, restoring its Hainanese restaurant on the ground floor and adding a heritage center on the second and bar on the roof. Across the street, 1919 is also restoring the long-abandoned Majestic Theater back to its former glory with the original black-and-white design, two-tiered seating, and stage for performing events. More suites will eventually be added in another shophouse building behind the theater, making for what will be a “cultural triangle” of the suites, theater, and restaurant buildings.
The Surrounds: Loke Thye Kee is set right in the middle of George Town, so just about anywhere you’d want to go is within a 15-minute radius by foot. Armenian Street, the Cheong Fatt Tze blue mansion, and Love Lane lie in one direction; a wealth of food-stall streets in the other. A short drive away with the Residences’ complimentary car service are the Penang Botanical Gardens and railway that rides to the top of Penang Hill as well.
For Those in the Know: Among the room amenities is an extensive pillow menu, including a 100-year-old pillow that’s more for novelty than use—the concierge warns that it’s hard as a rock.
Loke Thye Kee Residences; 326 Jalan Penang, George Town, Malaysia; 60-4/263-1919; doubles from US$205
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