Is it Parisians who are most looking forward to the reopening of the more than century-old Hotel Lutetia, on Paris’ Left Bank? Or is it the property’s loyal overnight guests?
It’s hard to know for sure.
“The Lutetia — it isn’t like other luxury hotels in Paris that locals don’t go to unless they have to,” said Apollonia Poilâne, the head baker and chief executive of the celebrated Paris bakery Poilâne, which opened around the block from the property in 1932. “The Lutetia is our place, and we’ve missed not having it here.”
Following a renovation that has kept the hotel closed for more than four years — the first closure in its history — the Lutetia is expected to again open its doors this month, nearly 108 years after its debut on the bitterly cold evening of Dec. 28, 1910.
Paris is no doubt full of high-end hotels, but the Lutetia, located in the bohemian St. Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, stands out for being the rare one on the city’s Left Bank. Its history is also distinctive.
The Boucicaut family, who founded Paris’ first department store, Le Bon Marche, in 1852, wanted to give their customers and suppliers the option of staying in stylish and modern lodgings near the store. Since none existed, they decided that they would build one.
The architects Henri Tauzin and Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, marquee names in Paris at the time, were hired for the project and chose to build on the remains of an abbey and its gardens that neighbored Le Bon Marche. The glass and riveted steel that they used for the construction, along with concrete, were innovative for the time period, and their completed building, in typical early 20th-century decorative arts style, had a cream facade with stone balconies; its windows and balusters were adorned with angles, trellises and grapes.
All the rooms had hot water, telephones for calling reception and air conditioning, amenities that were then considered forward thinking, and in addition to being luxurious, the Lutetia was lauded for being a fine example of Art Nouveau architecture.
A high-profile crowd — a mix of personalities from the worlds of literature, art, fashion and politics — flocked to the hotel from the beginning. The French writer and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide ate lunch there almost daily in the 1920s, and French president Charles de Gaulle and his wife, Yvonne, chose it for their wedding night, on April 7, 1921.
James Joyce and Albert Camus were also among the regulars, and Picasso and Matisse lived at the property in the 1930s.
When the Taittinger family, of the famed Champagne brand, bought the Lutetia in the 1950s, it became a hangout for musicians and artists, including the French singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and the sculptor César. During this period, St. Germain-des-Prés was in the midst of a jazz craze, and the Lutetia hosted frequent jazz performances in its bar — Josephine Baker crooned for patrons as did the French singers Boris Vian and Juliette Greco.
More recent guests have included the actor Brad Pitt, the filmmaker David Lynch and the French actress Catherine Deneuve.
The opera director Jean-Paul Scarpitta, formerly of the Montpellier Opera, was a presence at the Lutetia’s bar for a few decades before the property closed, sometimes with his actor friends Isabella Rossellini and Gerard Depardieu. “The hotel was the meeting point for all of St. Germain-des-Prés,” he recalled. “It had a quiet elegance and was as comfortable as being home.”
But over time, the elegance became worn, and it was time to bring the hotel into the 21st century, according to Georgi Akirov, the chairman of The Set, the three-property hotel brand that bought the Lutetia from Starwood Capital Group in 2010 (Starwood bought the hotel from the Taittingers in 2005). “The hotel was open for over 100 years and hadn’t had an inside-out renovation,” he said. “We wanted to preserve its history but make it suitable for the modern traveler.”
His company hired the notable French architect Jean-Michele Wilmotte, a longtime patron of the Lutetia. Mr. Wilmotte said that he sought to create an aesthetic that was sophisticated and contemporary, yet respectful of the hotel’s past.
“The property was in bad condition, and I wanted to give it a new look with an airier and fresher feel,” he said.
Natural light now streams in from the newly built interior courtyard, once a salon once used for events. And the 184 guest rooms, down from the 234 that existed before the makeover, all have windowed bathrooms.
Adding lighting throughout the public spaces, such as the mirrored lights in the new bar, called Bar Josephine, and the Murano glass chandeliers in the lobby, brings in even morebrightness, and so, too, does the furniture, all of it custom built in an early 20th century style. The pieces are mostly pale gray and beige, but the wooden blue panels with touches of red and green add pops of color.
Other new features at the Lutetia include a 7,500-square-foot spa, a 55-foot-long indoor pool and seven signature suites. One, inspired by the writers of St. Germain-des-Prés, has a long oak wooden desk and is full of books by literary figures like Ernest Hemingway, and another has a rooftop terrace with 360-degree views of Paris.
A storied hotel that undergoes a renovation can stay true, at least in part, to its past: Mr. Wilmotte took care to see that many of the Lutetia’s original and most appealing elements remained.
The hotel’s cream facade, stained glass windows and the frescoed ceiling in Bar Josephine, a former breakfast room, were all restored — the last was a job that took 17,000 hours, Mr. Wilmotte said.
And some pieces from the hotel’s noteworthy art collection (there are 280 in all) are again on display in the public areas and in the rooms; the works include paintings by the French-born American artist Arman and sculptures by Philippe Hiquily, from France, and Vassilakis Takis, from Greece.
The vibrant Brasserie Lutetia, a favorite of neighborhood residents, is coming back, too. It is reopening in September, with the three-Michelin-starred French chef Gerald Passedat, of Le Petit Nice, in Marseille, overseeing the cuisine.
Mr. Passedat is known for his seafood dishes, and, in keeping with his signature style, the brasserie will offer cuisine that is typical of France’s Côte d’Azur region, including raw fish, whole sea bream and bouillabaisse. “The food will be traditional and simple,” Mr. Passedat said.
Until the brasserie opens, guests can dine in the Orangerie, known for its weekend brunch, and Salon Saint Germain, which has a glass roof and serves refined French cuisine.
Ms. Poilâne said that her affinity for the Lutetia came from her grandfather, Pierre, who started Poilâne, and her father, Lionel. Both, now deceased, enjoyed going to the hotel to meet friends and business associates for drinks, she said. “I’m excited to be back at the Lutetia and see what it’s like, and my grandfather and father would have been, too,” she said.
Nightly rates at the Lutetia will start at 850 euros, about $985. Through the end of the year, that rate includes breakfast, an early check-in, late checkout and a private half-day tour of the Left Bank. Rooms can be booked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 33-1-4954-4646.
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