My heart leapt with joy in June of this year as I entered the fabled Ritz Hotel, Place Vendôme, Paris after a four-year long renovation. Having been an annual visitor to the Ritz from 1973 until 2003 when I was lucky to move into an apartment of my own in Paris, the Ritz was always my Parisian home away from home. Would it be destroyed? Could it be made modern enough to compete with the new Shangri-La, the freshly groomed Four Seasons Hotel George V, or the chic updated Plaza Athénée? With a huge sigh of relief, the answer is yes on all counts. The soul of the Ritz with its pure ambiance of Belle Epoque Grand Hotel allure remains exactly the same. However, it is fresher, more glowing and light-filled, but with its charm completely intact. The grand dowager has had a face lift that has rendered it more youthful and beautiful than ever.
From the warm welcome of a battery of doormen, up the sweeping entry steps, through the gleaming turnstile, and onto the scarlet carpet of the Ritz, you are in a luxurious haven of another era. The Ritz is an oasis of refined opulence and like a mirage in the desert, it shimmers as if in a dream.
French born designer and architect Thierry Despont has succeeded in his goal of keeping the Ritz as it was but with a complete re-do. The rooms are now all equipped with wi-fi, air conditioning, and a concealed flat television, but the gold plated swan bath fixtures remain, polished to perfection. The long entrance gallery overlooking the garden is just as before, but the sitting area for coffee or afternoon tea has been baptized the Salon Proust, in recognition of the famous author who lived at the Ritz in his last years. Today, tea is no longer a mere cup but a complete high tea of gourmet savories and sweets, with or without a coupe de champagne. With the crumpets, there is a choice of butters of all sorts of exotic tastes. A reservation for this sumptuous tea is a must.
The Bar Vendome to the left of the entry is a replica of the red velvet cocoon of yesteryear. Today, black and white photos of such famous guests as Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, Grace Kelly, all who frequented this go-to place to be seen, now adorn the walls. At lunch, le tout Paris has returned, along with a bevy of American families and fashion celebrities. The adjoining Ritz garden has been transformed into two glass conservatories with retractable roofs which permit airy dining all year long. The Bar Vendome offers a brasserie classic French menu, while the gastronomic restaurant, L’Espadon features the height of epicurean cooking in the tradition of Escoffier, the famous French chef who originally directed the celebrated kitchens. The interior room of the Espadon is inspired by 18th century France with pale boiseries and a sky blue ceiling out of a Watteau painting.
As in former days, a long shopping gallery joins the Vendome side of the Ritz to the rue Cambon. In previous days, the vitrines offered a dazzling choice of diamond and gold jewelry, couture fashion, or more affordable stationery, socks or glitzy costume jewelry. Prices varied from a trinket at $20 to hefty sums. Today, the fabled window shopping is all deluxe with one couture dress or one necklace displayed as stand alone jewels. It is simpler and more refined, but all very expensive. These display cases now overlook a beautifully landscaped interior garden designed by the renowned French landscape artist Jean Mus. Walking through this corridor is a feast for the eyes.
At the end of this dazzling promenade lies the fabled Hemingway Bar and the new Ritz Bar. Hemingway adored the Ritz. As before, the world’s most famous barman Colin Field presides. The menu of custom cocktails is staggering with a “clean” Dirty Martini among a myriad of choices. Today, a collection of Hemingway memorabilia with typewriters, hunting trophies, and old photos grace the walls and tables of this intimate space, alive with a happy buzz.
Next door, the newly created Ritz Bar is a small lacquered box of a space that seems out of Art Deco times. With a menu of French bistrot fare, it offers snacks or meals all day long, and is a relaxed but very chic alternative to the more grand spaces at the new Ritz.
Hemingway wrote a novella in 1922 entitled “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”. Today, the Ritz Hotel has never glittered more brightly. A drink or a meal at the Ritz may be just as costly as a diamond, but, for once, splurge and indulge yourself. You won’t regret it.
Hôtel Ritz Paris
15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
Phone: +33 1 43 16 30 30