iSee Castle Hotel

Iconic workers pub that served its last drinks in 2016

Local hangout

Castle Hotel was a hugely popular bar, a favourite hangout place for the working-class man who came in for a spicy bite and cheap drink. Its reputation was a bit dodgy perhaps, but it definitely had the looks to make up for it. Its 200-year-old British colonial façade dated back to the days of the great philanthropist Charles Henry de Soysa, who built it together with the adjoining row of shophouses. The bar sold its last drinks in 2016 and was taken down soon after.

New look

The descendants of the de Soysa family once had the dream to do up the peeling orange colonial edifice and convert it into a ‘nice, decent wine bar plus British-type pub’. But it never came to that. Tata Housing took it down and built a bright white replica on its graveyard to act as a reminder of the good old days before central Colombo took on a massive beauty makeover.

Printing press

Castle Hotel was not built as a hotel, it was initially the printing press of the esteemed Cave&Co, the country’s leading publisher in those days. The company was set up by HW Cave who came to Colombo as an 18-year old in 1872 as the private secretary to Bishop Copleston. With support from the bishop he decided to open a small bookshop and by 1884 the firm had become a full-fledged firm printing, publishing and producing exquisitely bound and gilded books. The published mainly bibles - no surprise there - but also travel books on Ceylon authored by HW himself.

Castle Hotel was about to tumble down. It was like a hellhole inside. There was nothing even to salvage.
— Prasad Ranaweera
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