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Ritz Hotel – old memories charm

The initiative to build hotel came from Russian and French financiers. Carl Ritz agreed to brand this undertaking with his name. At that time Ritz already had a network of similar hotels in Europe’s biggest cities. It was a synonym of luxury in hotel industry.
This most luxurious hotel was created in Białystok at the beginning of XX century with the trades between West and Far East in mind. It may be hard to believe but in Białystok and surroundings a rapid industrialisation happened. It was started by introduction of customs border between Kingdom of Poland and Russia after the fall of November Uprising. The next force helping the industry was the creation of Warsaw-Petersburg railway in 1862. Majority of it was focused on cloth industry, which even caused Białystok to be called “Manchester of North” to differentiate from Łódź district.
Hotel was in direct neighbourhood to Branicki Palace at the connection of Niemiecka Street and Instytucka Street (today’s Killińskiego and Pałacowa Streets). It was built in 1912-1913 by Russian-French Ritz Stock Society from Petersburg-Tulsk Ground Bank funds with Białystok Commercial Bank mediation.
The building had three floors with excessively monumental form and amazingly magnificent from outside, intriguing with its art nouveau décor. Quickly hotel became city’s symbol and it brought fame across the country, as it was the only Ritz hotel in the country and one out of five functioning in Europe at that time.


From the very start hotel was called the most elegant in city. It was equipped with all conveniences so it could satisfy even the most experienced and demanding guests. It had marble stairs, parquets and wooden elevator, first in Białystok. Bank, barber and café were located on ground floor of the building. On the first floor there was a restaurant with its facilities. Cuisine, very refined as well – Ułańska roast was a hit among local colonels and Swiss juice pudding was enjoyed by elegant ladies staying at hotel. Restaurant’s kitchen chef at Ritz hotel had a numerous arsenal of delights which often surprised the guests. This European chef could make the most exotic dishes. The lemon soup that was served in hotel’s restaurant perhaps wasn’t even eaten by Jan Klemens Branicki himself. If the need occurred chef would introduce national atmosphere by serving “on Sundays and Thursdays Polish Tripe”. Often he would reach to multicultural character of the region by serving Lithuanian Kolduns and venison pate in Tatar sauce. Martinets were suggested “Civil beef”. Guests were offered three room apartments with bathrooms and 50 rooms equipped with all convenient of that time with warm and cold running water, telephone and central heating. Guests living there could also use bar, Garages and pool tables in cellar.
Rooms décor was quite impressive, with good taste. Every room had a magnificent bed or stylized couches, stylish wardrobes, tables, chairs and armchairs. Beautiful colourful satin curtains hanging in the windows, wall decorated reproductions of many famous painters and heavy glass ashtrays were on the tables. The rooms were lighted by heavy brass electric table lamps. Everything was perfectly clean. The attic was additionally adopted for ten mansard rooms which were mostly used by lovers wishing to keep their feelings from others.
But not the rooms or cuisine was the source of Białystok Ritz fame. If the guest had a little luck he could be a participant of fashion shows of European scale. In 1924 Fall from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. there was a show “Parisian hat, dress and covers models”.
What can we say, the round doors of the hotel led to different, better world with glimmers of wealth, flowers’ scent and other achievements of the age. Sadly not everyone was able to afford to stay in this luxury at least once. Officers elite, aristocrats and industrialists, owners of Białystok manufactures and works, which at the end of XIX century were over 200. Evening dress code was obligatory, smoking or elegant suit, without tie or bow-tie no man was allowed to enter. Guests were offered a variety of attractions from Bałałajka Orchestra to dance groups shows which performed Russian, Caucasian and Gypsy dances.
From 1930 there was also and “Gryf”(Gryphon) cinema which name was connected to the entrance gate to Branicki Palace nearby. Hotel restaurant was visited many times by Marshal Józef Piłsudski.
Ritz hotel was visited in the interwar period by famous people such as: Nora Ney, Pola Negri, Hanka Ordówna, Aleksander Wertyński, many diplomats visiting city, writer Stanisław Przybyszewski. Marshal Edward Śmiały-Rydz and Felicjan Sławoj-Składkowski – last prime minister of Second Republic of Poland were guests here during their visits in Białystok.
Grand dinner in 1939 in Ritz Hotel cemented Nazi-Soviet brotherhood which put Białystok and surroundings in soviet occupation as the result of Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. In 1944 Nazi forces retreating from Białystok set it on fire and so the short but fascinating story of city’s most elegant hotel ended.
In the after war period, the hotel was a synonym of excess and luxury for bourgeois parts of society. In 1947 during city’s reconstruction after war a controversial decision of its demolition was taken. It wasn’t easy however, the military was setting mines and explosives but due to the massive and robust walls it would not just go down. Then lines were put to be dragged by tracked vehicles and later took it down brick by brick until finally the hotel or rather what was left of it faded into oblivion – that’s how eye witnesses recalled those events.

Was everything in Białystok Ritz hotel the most?
Mean stories were circling the city about the restaurant’s cloakroom not so great level. Mean jokes were told about this.
A talk between two guests not necessarily from trade or finance world in 1937:
-You know this Ritz restaurant is the cheapest in entire city.
-You’re kidding, right? How is it cheap?
-Just think. For three zloty(currency) I had today: vodka, appetizer, black coffee, cigarettes and quite new plush hat.
-Yeah, you’re right. I don’t think you can get it cheaper anywhere in the city. And they say Ritz is only for the rich.
This unflattering opinion had its real cause. On 1936 carnival every Saturday and Sunday there were popular “fajfy” organised in Ritz. “Elites” and Elites were meeting there but the cloakroom or rather its ersatz was equalising everyone. The sight was so that “all chairs in Ritz restaurant were full of coats, mantles and under the tables there were plenty of elegant shoes and wellingtons which after changing were afraid to be left in cloakroom. It looked more like a market than elegant restaurant of exclusive hotel. Raillery of this were to no end. Hotel’s director was suggested to hang a sign: “Free cloakroom for the poor”. But it wasn’t about the price. It was about the lottery were the blind fate role was played by dressed in livery hotel’s cloakroom worker.
Cloakroom worker also appeared in jokes from that time.
-What jackass took mine hat and left his?
-Apparently the one that has the same head as you, Sir – replied worker.
Despite Ritz having a great cuisine renown , accidents did occur. A louder one was a case from 1932 with local correspondent of Warsaw’s “Świat” Michał Gonerko. On Saturday’s afternoon he ordered a dinner in Ritz restaurant. Soup was just like any other soup but the veal cutlet brought by waiter had its older age revealed by colour and smell. Gonerko demanded to talk with director , where he declared that “he finds the cutlet not fresh” and due to that he won’t pay for it. Director got “his ambition grazed “ and called for police, who after preparing protocol and many jokes took “the cutlet to test and analyse”. This veal-cutlet misunderstanding left another Ritz joke behind.
Angry customer calls at Ritz:
-Mr Ober! This chicken is burnt. I can’t eat this! Please call the director.
-There is no need, kind sir – replies waiter – boss won’t eat it even more so.