A new face of the erstwhile Great Eastern Hotel, a 172-year old heritage hotel formerly owned by the West Bengal government, will be unveiled on Tuesday evening, setting off one of the continent’s oldest luxury hotels on a course through uncharted waters, where tradition and modernity, heritage and contemporary style, go hand-in-hand.

The iconic hotel, located on five acres, bang in the middle of the city’s central business district, was born on this day in 1841. It changed hands many times and its reputation ran across the British Empire. Its guest list, reportedly included British Royalty, author Mark Twain and cricketer Frank Worell.

Tuesday’s ceremonial launch marks a milestone for many reasons. The hotel was in private hands till 1970 when first the Centre and then the West Bengal government took it over. It was the first major privatisation effort of the then Left Front government and international hotel groups had queued up to buy into the government’s share of this loss-making hotel when the proposal was first mooted in 1995.

But, there was stiff resistance from the trade unions and the 430-odd workers. So much so that former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu stepped back from his divestment plans in the wake of the sustained workers movement led by the majority union. A human chain was once formed around the hotel to mark the workers protest with the unions garnering support from the International Labour Organisation.

The present owners the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group acquired 90 per cent of the equity in 2005 and were mandated to refurbish the hotel while keeping its heritage façade intact. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will unveil the new avatar of the hotel where a swanking new wing has been added.