After four long years of absence, it’s a pleasure to rediscover the Lutetia, or the only five-star hotel on the Parisian left bank.
I have been going to this establishment, with its rich history, both light and somber, for quite some time now. I must admit, I have a real soft spot for this place.
The Lutetia’s story starts off on a light, happy note. Indeed, its construction was commissioned in 1907 by the Boucicaut couple, owners of the Bon Marché department store, because they wanted to offer their provincial clients the opportunity to stay in a luxurious hotel right in front of the aforementioned Bon Marché. The building was finished in 1910 and was a masterpiece of Art Nouveau, the pediment being its most remarkable feature, touched with a sprinkle of Art Déco. It was the epicenter of intellectual and artistic life between the two wars, welcoming the likes of Picasso, Gide or Saint-Exupéry (who wrote the most beautiful book in the world if you ask me).
The story becomes darker at the beginning of the Occupation period, as the hotel is requisitioned in order to serve as the general headquarters for the Nazi secret services. The legend goes that the hotel’s employees managed to hide the best bottles of wine in hidden stashes in the cellars.
A chiaroscuro story at the Liberation, when the Lutetia opened its doors to all the refugees from the concentration camps. The hotel was constantly packed with families trying to find their missing kin, only to have their hopes broken by their absence in most of the cases.
Until recently, a traditional dinner of deportees was held there (and I wonder where the dinner was held during the four years it took to renovate the place). In 2010, the hotel was sold to the Israeli group Alrov: the symbol is strong.
Four years after the beginning of the renovations, the Lutetia re-opened its doors and the result is simply enchanting. The architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte managed to preserve the spirit of the place while still freeing it from the superfluous.
Gone are the rich, red drapes. Gone is the somewhat heavy and deliciously outdated atmosphere.
Willmote made space for brightness and light, which were sorely lacking. The place is now cozy and luminous, thanks to his use of deep-colored woods, Art Déco codes and a palette ranging from warm beige to deep chocolate.
I can only thank this genius of an architect that I’ve always admired for not choosing to create a pseudo-french décor – a heavy baroque style using and mixing neo-classicism with Boulle, Transition era or Napoleon III style, or an incoherent mess – which is rather common amongst certain palaces of the Parisian right bank (I can guarantee you won’t see me there).
The Joséphine bar gives onto the boulevard Raspail, the only separation being a gigantic glass window and hundreds of shelved bottles of alcohol, which sets the tone very clearly. You can find the Lutetia’s piano there, waiting to produce symphonies.
The place starts buzzing as soon as the clock hits cocktail time. It’s always safer to reserve: don’t hold it against the Parisians though, they’re only just re-discovering the gem that was taken away from them for a while.