Business & Leadership

The Grand Hotel of Ordinary Parisians

The Lutetia reopened its doors in 2018 after four years of renovation. Marble bathrooms, a 700 square meter spa, a Michelin-starred chef… the Left Bank now has a luxury hotel to rival anything available north of the river. Leaders League gives you the grand tour.

The Lutetia reopened its doors in 2018 after four years of renovation. Marble bathrooms, a 700 square meter spa, a Michelin-starred chef… the Left Bank now has a luxury hotel to rival anything available north of the river. Leaders League gives you the grand tour.


Here, just to the south-west of the touristy Saint Germain des Prés neighbourhood, is not the Paris of postcards, frozen and estheticized, but the Paris of Parisians: on the one side of Boulevard Raspail, the Bon Marché department store and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and on the other Vieux Colombier Theatre and the Lutetia Hotel. The neighbourhood is bustling and authentic: the hotel too.

 

The only grand hotel on the Left Bank, in the inter-war period the Lutetia was a favorite haunt of the writer Pierre Assouline… and all of Paris. Exiled artists and Left Bank intellectuals out for a good time would gather in its halls. It was an establishment apart, a world away from the stuffy aristocratic hotels of the right bank.

“The Lutetia was the most accessible of the Belle Epoch hotels, the one most open to the city and its people,” stresses its current general manager, Jean-Luc Cousty. “The hotel has always reflected its era, changing with the times, cognizant of what was happening in France and in Europe.” In dark times as well as good.

 

Bursting with history

 

The beginning of the 20th century was a time of economic prosperity in Paris, with several department stores and luxury hotels springing up across the city. It was in this context that the Lutetia saw the light of day in 1910, built by the owners of the nearby Bon Marché department store to wine and dine its suppliers and high-rolling customers. A primary role that evolved in the 1920s to see it become a hub of the cosmopolitan intelligentsia, mixing French philosophers, American writers and Russian artists fleeing the Bolshevik revolution. In the 1930s the group grew to include German artists and academics fleeing Nazism who created think tank avant l’heure that imagined German society after Nazism.

So, it was rather ironic, then, that during the German occupation in the Second World War, Hitler used the hotel as the base of the Abwehr, the Nazi’s military intelligence division. A stain on its history that was rubbed cleaned between April and October 1945 when some 20,000 holocaust survivors from Buchenwald, Mathausen and Auschwitz passed through the Lutetia during their repatriation. The decision to use the Lutetia as a welcome center for those liberated from the concentration camps came from Charles de Gaulle, whose fondness for the place, had a positive impact on its image after the war.

 

Refining the past

 

“The role the Lutetia played in the life of Paris in the first half of the 20th century (it was sold to the wealthy Taittinger champagne family in the middle of the 1950s) has made it a treasure trove of memories and even today it retains as special place in the heart of Parisians,” asserts Cousty. The hotel has built its brand on the collective imagination of Parisians. Something that was not lost on the Israeli group Alrov in 2014 when it purchased the hotel and embarked on a $135 million renovation, which concluded last summer. The ambition? To take the property upmarket by simultaneously upgrading the facilities and returning parts of the hotel to their original design. The Lutetia reemerged from its chrysalis in time for Bastille Day in 2018 as a beautiful, five-star, luxury hotel where the average price of a room was triple what it was in 2014.

“The effect is upscale Paris apartment, with wood paneling, log fires, marble bathrooms, Left Bank charm, an historic aura… all going to create a space where it feels good to be, at once exclusive and open,” says Cousty of the hotel’s makeover. A winning mix of styles, according to the project’s chief architect, Jean Michel Wilmotte, that was achieved by the total reorganization of the layout. “The renovation sought to refine the past while giving the place a contemporary feel,” adds Cousty. “The heightened level of comfort is in response to the demands of our clientele, 90% of whom are foreign visitors, while the restoration of many features lost between the second world war and the 1970s, was also a key component.”

 

Location, location, location

 

Among them, the original-design plastic-moldings, restored according to building archives, the iconic fresco in the Joséphine bar, whose restoration took 17,000 man-hours, and the black and white mosaic in the entry – an exact copy of the original dating from 1910 – and the original entrance, adorned with art deco lighting.

Sterling work, to which one can add the sizeable task of modernizing the plumbing and electricity, enlarging the bedrooms – there are now 184 compared to 230 pre renovation – adding a third basement level with a 700m2 spa and swimming pool, and the creation of a ground floor patio that brings more natural light into the dining rooms and other communal areas. The objective was to create a hotel that was more rooted in its neighbourhood in order to capitalize on the location.

“The mythic status of the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood, as an erstwhile haven of artists and philosophers, is very important to a large section of our foreign clients, Americans notably. Today the hotel is surrounded by a lively and authentic Paris neighborhood, one of the most sought after in the whole city.” Which is why the owners wanted to increase the number of windows in order to allow patrons to soak up the atmosphere, but also, insists the director, to impress on them the fact that there really is nothing else quite like the Lutetia on the Left Bank.

 

Something for everyone

 

“With the refurbishment, we wanted to accentuate the Parisian aspect, our ties with and openness to the people of this city, to maintain its original character but to seduce new clients with something for everyone at all hours of the day,” insists Cousty. From jazz music afterworks at the Joséphine bar, to Sunday brunch and evening dinner at the Brasserie Lutetia, now run by three Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passedat, the Lutetia caters to all tastes.

And by creating spaces that people can take advantage of at different times of the day, the hotel, according to Cousty, provides “an ever-changing experience.”   

“This was one of the main objectives of the renovation and the bet has paid off. Today, the Lutetia has everything you could want in a luxury hotel, on top of a rich history that creates an emotional link and evokes timeless splendor, on top of a name brings to mind a certain Left-Bank lustre. There’s even an Entrée des Parisians entrance for the more discreet. What more encouragement do you need? 

 

Caroline Castets

 

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