Monday, May 5, 2008
SAMOAN HOTEL HOOKED ON HISTORY
YOU'VE got to admire a bloke who invests a million bucks or so in building a boutique hotel in Samoa, and then names it after a hooker.
But hey, this is the South Pacific and Tom Drabble is a Kiwi. But he's a Kiwi with business acumen, imagination – and a nice sense of humour to go with it.
Tom's place is in Pago Pago and is called Sadie Thompson Inn after the runaway Hawaii prostitute in Somerset Maugham's classic short story Rain.
In his yarn, based loosely on a trip he made by ship from Honolulu to Pago Pago, Maugham weaves a fascinating tale of the relationship between passengers sailing with him to Apia, and who are delayed by a tropical storm that forces them to hole-up in a sleazy Pago Pago rooming house.
Amongst them are a dour Scottish doctor and his wife, a brassy American "Miss Sadie Thompson," and a pious and hypocritical missionary of unknown nationality who ultimately slashes his throat after being seduced by Sadie – whose soul he insists he was attempting to save when explaining his prayer meetings in Sadie's room to his equally pious wife ("we've not allowed the natives here to dance for eight years," the wife boasts.)
Maugham based Sadie on a young lady who galloped up the gangway of his ship at the very last minute in Honolulu, "a blonde runaway" he discovered had been forced out of the city's then-notorious Iwelei redlight district during a police crackdown.
Samoan historians have confirmed that Maugham's ship, the Sonoma, arrived in Pago Pago in 1916, and police records reveal a single female passenger left the Sonoma to stay at "a waterfront boarding residence" before "opening a house of prostitution catering to U.S. sailors…"
Other records show that several attempts were made to deport Sadie, who finally returned broken-hearted to Honolulu after a failed Samoan romance.
And although "Sadie Thompson" then disappeared without further trace, in the short time she lived in Pago Pago, thanks to Somerset Maugham she became one of the South Pacific's great legends.
Fast-forward now to 1964 when Tom Drabble arrives in Pago Pago from the little town of Te Puke south of Auckland, to work with a construction company. Tom falls in love with Samoa and a local lady, Ta'aloga, and when the construction job is finished, stays on.
In 1989 he opens Sadie's Bar and Restaurant on the Pago Pago waterfront, but after incurring substantial losses, buys out his partners and closes Sadie's for a year, totally redeveloping it into his new Sadie Thompson Inn that opened in downtown Pago Pago in November 2003.
Tom moves the bar and restaurant to the ground floor to attract more passing trade, and upstairs develops twelve deluxe hotel rooms overlooking the harbour, and two 1-bedroom apartments.
He give all spacious rooms queen beds plus a sitting area with queen sleeper/couch, internet connection, cable TV, DVD player, mini-fridge, hairdryer and tea and coffee facilities.
Rooms are named Sadie Thompson, Rev. Davidson, Dr & Mrs McPhail etc from the book, and Miss Rita Hayworth and Ms Gloria Swanson after the actors…
And dining in Sadie's Restaurant is amongst the best in Pago Pago, particularly as Tom has a pipeline to freshest local seafoods and market garden crops.
And if you ask Tom if it's somewhat odd to name a classy, boutique hotel after a hooker, he's quick to point out that Sadie is one of the South Pacific's grandest legends – good enough for Somerset Maugham to immortalise her, and Hollywood to make three films based on her exploits.
The first was a silent 1928 flick starring Gloria Swanson, the second starred Joan Crawford in 1932, and the third Rita Hayworth in 1953: as the Hayworth movie was made at a time of moral tub-thumping in America, Sadie had to be portrayed not as a prostitute, but as a nightclub singer "with a past," while the morally corrupt missionary Alfred Davidson was re-characterised as an unaffiliated religious zealot so as not to offend any sections of the church.
But it did offend one US Senator who described the film as "rotten, lewd, immoral… just a plain dirty picture."
With recommendations like that, no wonder Tom Grabble's Sadie Thompson Inn is on a winner.
(For details see travel agents or go onto www.sadieshotels.com)
 Living the legend: Sadie Thompson Inn, Pago Pago Samoa
 Local dancers put on regular shows for guests
 Room at the inn – spacious accommodation at Sadie Thompson Inn
- Images: Sadie Thompson Inn