Getting to know Amari JB

In the space of just 10 ten days, I’ve been to the Amari four times – on May 9, May 15, May 18 and May 19 – for various events and their soft-opening on May 15.

Entrance to lobby of the Amari Johor Baru from Jalan Trus
You may be wondering just what is or where is Amari?

The Amari Johor Baru is a new city centre 242-room hotel, a brand with its origins in Thailand that celebrates the colours and rhythms of modern Asia.

Locals, familiar with JB’s Rex and Lido cinemas, will nod in agreement when I say that the hotel is situated on its former site.

Just as in the days of those landmark cinemas, the Amari also enjoys convenient access from two routes – from Jalan Trus and the other, via bubble lifts from Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

My first visit to the Amari was as a guest of the Rotary Club of Johor Baru who held their regular meeting at the hotel for a peek into its new premises.

Amari JB General Manager, Wayne Lunt
I was told to drive into the carpark via Jalan Trus and after parking, I found the elevator lobby and headed up to the hotel lobby on level six.

Aware that visitors to this spanking new hotel may be unfamiliar with the place, staff were positioned in the lobby to direct us to the appropriate destinations.

When asked where I was going, I said, “Rotary” and was instantly ushered to a foyer between the Library and the Idea Room, where the meeting was being held.

Rotarian friends greeted me warmly and while I was chatting with them, we were joined by hotel General Manager, Wayne Lunt. When we were introduced, Wayne did not hesitate to tell me that he is familiar with my heritage stories in My Johor Stories!

During the club meeting, Wayne was invited to give a brief introduction to the Onyx group of properties and hotel Amari Johor Baru. Using visuals projected on a screen, he introduced the group’s various brands like Amari, Ozo and Shama, names that will soon become familiar here.

Sign in the hotel for directions to the Lido and Rex Rooms
He also outlined the rationale behind the Amari’s tagline, Colours and Rhythms and the group’s policy in exercising inclusiveness with the diverse practices in Asian cultures.

After a much anticipated completion of the project on Sungai Segget, the hotel was then putting on the finishing touches to get ready to open its doors to welcome their first guests.

Besides the Breeze Spa which offers a range of treatments in single and twin treatment rooms, the hotel has banquet and meeting facilities not only in the Idea Room but also in two adjacent function rooms which they aptly named Rex and Lido.

Welcome team at the soft-opening of Amari Johor Baru
Wayne told the Rotarians that he read about the Rex and Lido cinemas from My Johor Stories and it was a tribute to the city’s old landmarks to name their meeting rooms after these cinemas.

The mention of our old cinemas seemed to elicit an agreeable response from the Rotarians, many of whom were familiar with the city’s culture and heritage.

Datuk Freddie Long, who grew up at Jalan Ungku Puan, could not resist interrupting Wayne’s presentation and volunteered a personal anecdote about his experience in the Rex cinema.

The cinemas, as we know, were built next to Sungai Segget, the main waterway that flows parallel with Jalan Wong Ah Fook into the Johor Straits. If heavy rainfall coincided with the high tide, water level in the river may rise and overflow its banks.

Welcome to the Amaya Food Gallery on lobby level six
Sometimes during show-times, the flood water may even creep into the cinema. But locals like Long who are familiar with this natural phenomenon, would not be alarmed by the rising flood waters. They would coolly lift up their feet and rest them on the seats and continue watching the film!

Later, when I shared Long’s anecdote with my uncle, he laughed because he too had a similar wet experience in Rex!

Uncle Arthur said in those days, young men wore footwear commonly called Japanese slippers or thong slippers with rubber soles. He said cinema-goers who had the nasty habit of removing their footwear, were caught unawares and as a result, they had to walk home bare-footed!

Freshly made Som Tam, green papaya salad, from here
This was probably because they were too deeply engrossed with the movie while the flood waters silently rose in pitch darkness and their rubber slippers left on the floor were just swept away!

After this brief but interesting digression, Wayne continued to share more information about the hotel and its facilities. Then I joined the club members on a tour of the hotel to check out some of their rooms, the swimming pool and gym as well as take a peek into the spa.

In less than a week, I was back at the hotel again to witness its soft-opening on May 15. The event culminated with lunch at the Amaya Food Gallery and I had the privilege to taste some of the finest Thai food served in a hotel.

I thought they should have a good range of Thai fare - after all, the hotel is a Thai brand!

Fans helping themselves to food at the chocolate fountain
Little did I know that I would be back in the hotel again so soon! On May 18, I was there again for a breakfast-meeting.

So there I was at the Amaya Food Gallery, this time for breakfast. I must admit that my attention was focused on the meeting and not the food, so I made a mental note to sample more from its buffet spread when I dined at the Amaya again.

The very next day, I was at the Amara again for a prestigious event – the preview of the final episode of design reality television series, The Apartment: Rising Stars Edition – before the Malaysian audience would view it on AXN channel the following night!

I don’t know about the others but I was rather chuffed that the entire series was filmed at Bandar Seri Alam, a modern township right here in our state of Johor. The broadcast of this series to a worldwide audience would also bring a view of the developments here into the living rooms of countless viewers!

A single therapy room at the Breeze Spa in the Amari JB
Once again, I failed to appreciate the buffet dinner specially catered for this event because I was occupied with meeting the Malaysian contestant, Winston See, truly an inspiration to aspiring designers here.

His valiant attempt to create a unique design in the final challenge was indeed commendable and maybe I’m bias but I was even more proud of his efforts because he was born in JB and lived in Kulai before his family moved back to Shah Alam!

With such an exciting start with the Amari in JB, I’m sure there will be ample opportunities to experience more of the hotel’s facilities and hospitality again, maybe even sooner than expected.

And while the Rex and Lido cinemas may hold fond memories for locals who lived through the cinema era here, the Amari built on its site, exudes a sense of nostalgia not only from the familiar names of their meeting rooms but also because its vicinity has a wealth of heritage.