Where the Wilde Things Are: L’Hotel, Paris
There’s only one thing worse than being reviewed by LUSSO and that is not being reviewed by LUSSO.
What’s the most famous hotel room in the world? Leaving out the Overlook Hotel’s Room 237 on account of it being fictional (one hopes), Room 16 at L’Hotel, Paris is certainly a strong contender.
“Give me the luxuries and I can dispense with the necessities”, reads the Oscar Wilde quote on our cover page. A champion sybarite, Oscar knew a lovely thing when he was touching/wearing/tasting/feeling/committing gentle atrocities with it. Such a shame that he should have passed on in such non-pleasing surroundings. “Either this wallpaper goes or I do…”, he remarked at the end. Actually he didn’t. The actual attribution, “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” was spoken some weeks before his passing in 1900. It’s still hilarious, but certainly not his epigrammatic send off. And he was in a lot of pain from the ear abscess (note: not syphilis) that killed him, so he may have been having an off day.
Another contender for the man’s parting bon mot (or bon mort, if you will) was ‘I’m dying beyond my means”. This may more accurately reflect the location’s current status as one of the best 5 star hotels in the city. Snuggled within view of the Left Bank and the bohemian quarter that comprises Beaux Arts and St.Germain-des-Prés, this perfectly formed chamber of delights is a fin-de-siecle jewel box, stoically refusing to eradicate the aesthetics of the past, as so many high-end destinations seem want to do today.
Alongside beauty, what L’Hotel has in abundance is history. Having been reduced to a ‘Palais d’amour’ in the early 19th century, post Wilde’s passing, L’Hotel became a cast iron destination for celebrities and artists. Dali, Princess Grace, Sinatra and Taylor and Burton all swooned through her baroque cylindrical atrium, the central chamber offering them a view directly to the roof, some six floors up. Then they entered the most inviting, plushest bar they, or you, would have ever drank in.
If atmosphere is created by the ghosts of the past, L’Hotel’s salon is a haunted palace, ably abetted by a wonderfully simpatico redesign by the French king of plush, Jacques Garcia.
The Légion d’honneur winner has the best eye for historical reinvention in the business and his choices of damask and olive silks and velvets, alongside leopard print carpets, painted gold filigree and low lighting frame the red marble bar perfectly. One feels simultaneously cerebrally elevated and mired in exquisite decadence. Portraits of opiated, louche examples from all artistic disciplines remind you of the standards of creativity and depravity you should aspire to emulate. Gin in teacups and florid crystal glasses filled with absinthe are the effective medium. No wonder this is still a favourite hangout of the cool, the informed and the beautiful.
Being all three in one package, I’m – naturally – exhausted. Back to the lobby (there’s a great shot of Jorge Luis Borges standing directly on the floor’s Sun medallion. Google it) I take the wee Little Elevator That Could (maximum load: 2 inebriated geniuii) up to my suite. Whilst not as darkly flamboyant as Room 16, which, due to constant demand from those wishing to live as their dear, dear Oscar had passed, is never available, my room is a visual feast of detail.
The complete antithesis of modern boutique schizophrenia, this room vibrates with a harmony only available when taste ruthlessly decrees the apposite mouldings, fittings, furniture and colours. I applaud the results of this level of stern detailing. You should too. Sumptuous, but not chintzy. Decadent, but civilized. Authentic, but comfortable – this is quite a trick to pull off and it’s what makes L’Hotel unique.
Further wonders are revealed between the sheets. No, I’m not bragging. I have lost count of the 5 star hotspots, charging over £1000 a night, whose ‘king size’ beds are imposters to the throne – nothing more than two singles pushed together and covered in rough sheets only of interest to an Inquisition-era flagellant with a nasty habit for onanism. One’s romantic getaway can be seriously roadblocked in such circumstances. Luckily, L’Hotel being all about the swooningly sensual, the mattresses are imperially wide and dressed in cotton so high in whatever the metric of measuring cotton is, they should be labelled ‘∞’. Best sleep of my life, no word of a lie.
Having woken up in a state of perfect rest, I’m devastated to learn that I have to get up. You know… to leave and stuff. Horrific. This trauma is ameliorated somewhat by a descent towards L’Hotel’s catacomb. Under the circular lobby, in a crypt-like stone chamber, lies their hammam. A deathly quiet, dark, secluded candlelit pool, barely three lengths but exquisitely deep, it offers amniotic perfection to ensure resurrection for even the most stubborn of stiffs. A quick blast in the steam room and back in the pool. Repeat. Rinse.
I have risen and then I ascend. To breakfast. A hotel that calls itself L’Hotel is either being nominatively lazy or is just assured of its almost Platonic perfection. Unsurprisingly then, the restaurant is called Le Restaurant.
Here, head chef Julien Montbabut maintains a very well-deserved Michelin star in a sky-lighted dining room that should have its own dedicated chapter of À la recherche du temps perdu. To borrow from a rather less elevated source, one asks oneself how much more Parisian this breakfast experience could be and the answer is: none. None more Parisian. I’d feel like a Proust character myself, if I wasn’t still in my hammam robes. The staff gamely suffer this brief blip in elegance as I hoover up perfect eggs and pastries and wonder how I can live here forever.
Maybe the trick is to follow Wilde’s example and, as a guest, pass into the next world leaving behind this corporeal plane. However, I reason that not being able to feel those sheets or taste those cocktails or immerse in that pool would be a bit of a bore to Oscar. I’m pleased with my deft logic at this time of day, then remember my favourite quote of his:
“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” I return to my omelette, empty-headed and happy.
L’Hotel, 13 Rue des Beaux-Arts, 75006 Paris, France. Tel: +33(0)1 44 41 99 00. www.l-hotel.com.