Then and Now: From Claridges to Tropicana

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Sep 19, 2020

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Durban - This week's picture of old Durban takes in the Claridges Hotel, today the Tropicana, photographed by Shelley Kjonstad, on Durban’s Golden Mile, and was taken from the Facebook page Durban Down Memory Lane.

The Claridges Hotel was built in 1955 and designed by architects Crofton & Benjamin, its undulating roofline built to resemble waves.

In the ’70s and ’80s the hotel was famed for its nightlife, with The Cats Whiskers upstairs featuring many of Durban’s top live bands. Among the favourites were Durban’s Blarney Brothers.

It also boasted a bar called the Cookie Look.

Durban historian Gerald Buttigieg commented on the bar: “What the hotel had done was set aside an area on the ground floor near the foyer which became the Cookie Look. A local rock band was hired to play from 5pm to 7pm on a Friday and Saturday. Being licensed premises, you were supposed to be over 18. The band played all the current popular rock tunes and a dance area was provided.”

The bar got its name, according to Gwen Morris writing in Kwana, when an American aircraft carrier with a satellite tracking team arrived in Durban.

“Some of the members booked into the Claridges Hotel. There was a sort of cocktail session, with bands playing, between 5-7pm. The American guys were looking for some entertainment so they decided to ‘go look for the cookies’ at the Claridges Hotel cocktail session and from then on it became known as the ‘Cookie Look’. How do I know this? I happened to be dating one of the satellite tracking team members at the time,” she writes.

Claridges was also the venue for a midnight premier of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, in 1957.

Rose Enstrom remembers how Presley mania hit town.

“The queues were miles long. We had a super time. Toilet rolls were thrown from the balcony as streamers; patrons went crazy. “

The hotel was also popular with visiting pop stars. When English entertainer Tommy Steele stayed at Claridges, there were crowds of screaming girls outside.

Pamela Nora Bloemstein writes on Facebook of “Cliff Richard waving from his patio to us minions all standing in the street screaming”, while Lorraine Elia remembers staying at the hotel when Pat Boone arrived. “I got to meet him,” she says.

The Independent on Saturday

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