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Around the turn of the millennium, Husna-Tara restored a planter’s bungalow at the Glenburn Tea Estate near Darjeeling into a boutique hotel looking out over the rolling tea fields. A decade later, she turned her sights to another part of India, Kolkata, renovating an office warehouse in the centre of the city into The Glenburn Penthouse. It took her seven years to create – seven years to get just right.
Spread over three floors The Glenburn Penthouse is both an escape from the city and a love-letter to it. Each of the nine rooms has been immaculately designed. There is a small library, a spa and a glorious restaurant like the drawing room of your most fabulous acquaintance.
FLASH POINT: Dip into the infinity pool upon the rooftop and look out over Kolkata’s Maidan and the glorious Victoria Memorial at dusk.
After the success of Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling, Husna-Tara set her sights on Kolkata. She was looking to create a heritage building to convert into a hotel. But which building? Kanak Building on Russell Street, the old Army & Navy Store, belonged to Husna-Tara’s husband’s family. So does the building behind overlooking a Kolkata skyline which incorporates the Victoria Memorial and the Howrah Bridge. This building had never been a hotel. It wasn’t even really heritage. But when her husband was visiting the old office warehouse and saw the view he made the call. “Stop looking for a heritage house. This is where we have to do our hotel.” Then the 7 years of hard work began …
It was due to the pandemic, when the influx of travellers dried–up, that the Penthouse turned its attention to food. Chef Shaun Kenworthy created tasting menus blending the best of the old and new. These tasting menus can now be paired with wine on request and customized for any pallet. Be sure not to leave the Penthouse without tasting their signature Eggs Benedict for breakfast. Cucumber sandwiches and miniature sausage rolls are served for afternoon tea. In October 2023, the Glenburn was named as one of the top 50 places to eat in India by Condé Nast Traveller. The magazine singled-out for praise the “crispy Bengal farmed softshell crab in a moilee sauce, duck kosha singara with panch phoron pineapple and a Basque-style chhana nolen gur cheesecake.”
Since the pandemic the Penthouse has opened its doors to walk-ins. So now you will today find an eclectic set scattered across the three floors. A medalled Indian Olympian, perhaps. Or a much-celebrated Bengali artist holding court to a gaggle of acolytes. Young socialites, wizened old-timers with clipped accents, debutants to the city waiting for the lights to turn on at Victoria Memorial … The dining room twins as a drawing room with ornate armchairs and chaise lounge around low coffee tables, stacked with almanacs and back catalogues of Condé Nast Traveller. Whether on purpose or not, the circles of chairs are too large for most groups. So you may find yourself sitting across from a fellow guest not of your party. The setting encourages conversation. And you will most likely not regret it.
The Glenburn Penthouse is just a ten-minute walk from Park Street. Park Street it the centre of Kolkata nightlife and home to some of the city’s most famous restaurants. Peter Cat, for example, (go for broccoli tandoori), Flurys (best for a full English with the Kolkata Telegraph) and Mocambo. Dip into to see if there is any live music going on at Someplace Else or Trincas. The favourite outlet of Kolkata’s favourite on-the-go snack (the chicken roll), Kusum Rolls, is on Park Street as well. Along Park Street is also the red-brick heritage Park Street Police Station and Park Street Cemetery. Pick up a novel by a Tagore or Amitav Ghosh from the street sellers. Have coffee and leaf through the books at Blue Tokai.
Husna-Tara’s love for Kolkata is evident as you walk into the Penthouse. Since setting up the hotel she has started leading private excursions of the city. On these she teases out its secrets and tells the stories of Kolkata to those who are willing to be nudged out of their comfort zone. Huna-Tara says:
“I read a book and then another, and then I kept reading about the history of Bengal and the history of the city. I suddenly realised that it was an amazing story to tell and perhaps I could do a better job than the people who were taking me around.”
Many of these books are amassed in piles on large tables in the Penthouse, encouraging guests to dive deeper into this remarkable city.