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Johannesburg - At first blush it seems like one of those contradictions in terms – “go to Emperors and have a weekend getaway”.
Who, you might ask, goes all the way to OR Tambo, not to get on a flight but to travel around the corner and book into a hotel that once hosted the AWB in its previous guise as the World Trade Centre (before 1994)?
It’s a hardcore neighbourhood; pawnshops, light engineering works and freight companies, buffeted by the sounds of Africa’s busiest airport, with planes screaming to reach altitude or powering up to land.
From the outside, Emperors, which is a sprawling complex, is imposing but not breathtaking. That takes place when you get inside. There are four hotels in the complex, catering from three to five stars, with D’Oreale Grande being at the top end and the Metcourt catering for the more budget-conscious.
The D’Oreale Grande has 196 rooms, topped off with a handful of luxury suites. The basic suites are good enough, though. A small lounge complete with minibar, lounge suite and flat screen TV (and a guest toilet) leads into the luxury though compact bedroom with its flat screen TV (this is the East, remember), and from there into a super-sized bathroom complete with a mini-Jacuzzi tub.
For some of us, this would be relaxation enough; chuck in some room service and a decent movie and we’re away, but no, there’s more.
Downstairs, the plush Italianesque hotel is home not just to Aurelia’s, its à la carte restaurant, but also Octavia’s Sensorium, a spa centred around a modern day Roman bath, under a painted ceiling.
You’ll see a lot of that kind of detail inside the resort; Roman soldiers, nymphs nestled in alcoves, gold paint, even a whole gallery of reproduced grand masters as you walk up towards the casino and main entertainment area. Anywhere else, the over-the-top decor might feel just that, yet here it feels apt.
The casino is enormous, sprawling amoeba-like in every direction from smoke-filled one-armed bandit halls, to more upmarket and plush privés for the heavy rollers.
Around the periphery are the bars and theatres and the access points for the two other hotels: the four-star Mondior and the three-star Metcourt Suites, as well as the huge convention centre, which is actually divided into two.
The brochure tells you the resort can handle groups from eight to 3 000. The place is so big, you wouldn’t notice if it was at capacity and – as the witching hour looms on a Friday night – it does get busy as the locals stream in to try their luck and kickstart their weekends… if not their lives.
But Emperors isn’t just about gaming; the bars are first class, especially Marc Antony’s cigar lounge, and there are more restaurants – from the commonplace franchises to the more exotic in-house establishments like the Egyptian-styled buffet Queen of the Nile – than you can shake a stick at.
What you add to this is a bit of entertainment, whether title bout boxing, pop groups (new and reinvented), singers and even comedy nights.
Amor Vittone has just been signed for a four-month gig at the Odeon Showbar, appearing every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in an action-packed, foot-stomping hour-long musical review (and yes, she can sing – and dance), while for old diehards there’s the unforgettable Ballyhoo on after her on a Friday night.
You might remember Man on the Moon? Trust me, this lot’s even better as a cover band and worth the trip out to the East on their own.
So, you’ve eaten your full, you’ve had your drinks, enjoyed your show and cuddled up in your luxurious room, what’s next?
Well, after a serious cholesterol breakfast (I lie, you can be healthy too and go for the bran or the sushi – or do all of it), you can nip across to the spa, steam off the excesses, get hypothermia in the Swiss shower (which was obviously designed by some middle European health sadist) and get bubbled back and forwards in the Roman bath. As your fingers start looking like prunes, you can top it all off with an hour-long Swedish massage, or hot rock massage, which sounds like something you’d order at the Spur, but which is really incredibly relaxing.
And, after all that, you’re ready for whatever life throws at you.
So, East Rand? Mid-week or weekend getaway from the hurly burly of life? Yes.
Would I go back? Absolutely. It was the most relaxing break I’ve had in months. The service is top-class, the food is out of this world and the staff are friendly.
In fact, I’ll be watching the What’s On column in this newspaper to check what their line-up is in the months to come.
l Head towards OR Tambo, take the Jones Street turn-off and follow the directions. Emperors sits on the right of the airport as you look at the terminal.
l Special offers
This being an urban casino resort there are specials on everything, from the gambling itself to dinners and shows. The D’Oreale is currently running a special offer where you can get a double room for R1 950, including breakfast and dinner. Or the two of you can book in for half that at the Metcourt hotel on the Emperors grounds. - Saturday Star