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Culture / Travel

The Best Hotel in the World Makes a Dramatic Return

$450 Million in Renovations Ramp Up the Wonder

BY Rob Brinkley // 09.13.16

YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED A BIT — BUT, MY, HOW YOU’VE CHANGED. IT’S BEEN YEARS SINCE WE’VE SEEN YOU — ALMOST FOUR — AND SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED IN THE WORLD (TO SAY THE LEAST). ARE YOU STILL A REFUGE FROM IT ALL? HOPES ARE HIGH. 

We see your enhancements, your updates, your sparkling new rooms. Your red-carpeted entryway: It’s wider! Your lobby: It’s brighter! Light floods into it from new windows — and from one that was there all along, an oval, long covered over, with its postcard view of Place Vendôme. (If that obelisk could talk.) Your famous Gallery still runs right through — Place Vendôme to rue Cambon — but now shines with new shops, 95 (!) tempting window displays, and, soon, a store devoted to travel gifts.

We see your sumptuous Prestige Suites, with names that foretell the style or who stayed: Impériale, Windsor, Chopin, Chaplin, Callas. Clever, the one that includes a replica of a certain queen’s boudoir at Versailles. (She’d lose her head if she could see it!) The Suite Opéra? Its bow window overlooks the gilded façade of the Opéra Garnier. The Fitzgerald? It’s studded with travel mementoes and books galore.

Even your lowliest — to use the term in jest — accommodations are posh, almost 400 square feet each of, well, Ritz, with light glinting off a crystal chandelier, a plump bed sized for a king, and a marble bath for soaking it all up — or away.

Ritz Paris
In Bar Hemingway with bartender Colin Field: Robert Cavalli jacket $4,690, trouser $1,310, and shirt $710, all at the Roberto Cavalli boutique, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tootsides. Pamela Love Apex Signet ring $180, at Sloan/Hall

Oh, for a lap in your aqua-blue pool, a whirl through your fitness center, a treatment at the new Chanel au Ritz — the fashion house’s first spa. We see your restaurants, your bars — familiar yet fresh. L’Espadon, where chef Nicolas Sale tantalizes with everything from humble breakfast to haute cuisine. Bar Hemingway, mercifully intact, where Cole Porter would curl up — Is it true he wrote “Begin the Beguine” here? — and where Gary Cooper and Mr. Hemingway would sit and gab for hours, perhaps days. Colin Field, its head barman, will concoct anything you wish, even a Bloody Mary made with fresh tomatoes of your choosing.

And what of your new technologies? Your showers run stronger, your air is ever-so-better conditioned, and you now have this terribly modern thing called Wi-Fi. (All the better to stream Belle de Jour — or Funny Face.) New is your secret tun-nel under Place Vendôme, which connects to a parking garage, just the thing for paparazzi-proof entrances and exits. Everywhere there are new finishes, new systems, new carpets, a new subterranean ballroom, a new garden lined with linden trees …

And yet …

Your stories still hang in your freshened air. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eva Perón, Ingrid Bergman. They all stayed. Dukes, duchesses, Dodi, Diana. They’ve been staying since 1898, when Swiss hotelier César Ritz flung open your doors. The heiresses, the aristocrats, the scions, the swans. Gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell threw herself a “little party” in the 1920s, inviting 300 guests for a buffet supper. (Serge Diaghilev sent his dance company to perform in the garden.) Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier — Mr. Paris! — filmed scenes for Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon.

The stories go on and on: of wartime trysts, of parties divine. The fashion pack. The financiers. They all stayed. They did more than stay: They lived. Please, let’s talk of Coco. Yes, Mademoiselle Chanel famously slept every night for almost 40 years in one of your suites — she furnished it herself — even though she had a very famous apartment above her very famous rue Cambon boutique, within walking distance. Let’s talk of Marcel. The inimitable Mr. Proust is inextricably linked to you, too. For him, you were a haven. He may have written his stories from his cork-lined bedroom in his house on Boulevard Haussmann, but, as he said, he “went to the Ritz to live.” He wrote much of his Remembrance of Things Past here. He had a warm friendship with your longtime senior maitre d’hotel, Olivier Dabescat. And Proust’s deathbed request? He sent for a bottle of his favorite beer, always kept on ice for him at the Ritz.

A toast, before we sign off, to owner Mohamed Al Fayed, who bought you — lock, stock, and barrel — in 1979, renovated you through the ’80s, and renovated you once again, just now. A toast, too, to Thierry W. Despont, Ltd., the New York firm that tackled this little pirouette between the past and the future. The disciples were nervous. Said its France-born principal — he has designed stores for Harry Winston and Ralph Lauren, the Decorative Arts galleries in the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and has overseen the renovation of everything from the Statue of Liberty to The Carlyle hotel — to Vanity Fair before your reopening: “If I don’t do a good job on this one, I’ll have to move to Patagonia!” Something tells us Monsieur Despont won’t be packing his bags.

But we will. Adieu for now. We are booking Air France this minute. They have those sumptuous new La Première private suites on certain flights, where we can recline the comfy seat into a bed — almost seven feet long! — and shut the whole world out, until we can be together again.

For you are still the Ritz Paris the world knows and loves. You’re you, just slightly new. That dashing Christian Boyens, directeur général of the Ritz, just confided what makes him happiest: “Our loyal guests coming back to the hotel, feeling at home in their private residence on the Place Vendôme,” and that “future guests will continue to look to the Ritz Paris as the epitome of French art de vivre.”

The service, the sumptuousness, the tales — their tellings burnished with time. Your walls may be lighter and brighter, but they still talk.

Toujours.

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