Paris, France

If Paris is the international capital of fashion and style, there’s no better place to drink it all in than at the five-star Hotel le Bristol, on the exclusive Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore.

And the Bristol, in the city’s tony 8th Arrondisement, is where we found ourselves doing exactly that one recent fall weekend. More specifically, we were drinking virgin mojitos, on a mission to check out the hotel’s newly opened bar, called Le Bar du Bristol.

The Hotel le Bristol, as seen from the street. Photo courtesy Hotel le Bristol

In contrast to the iconic hotel itself, which is the very definition of historic and traditional French luxury, the trendy new bar is outfitted like some English gentleman’s club.

Think winged chairs, double-sided couches, bookcases with little faux parakeets, pine paneling, oak floors, and a roaring fireplace. On one wall, there’s a huge Aubusson tapestry dating to the 1700s. The long, sleek bar is made from Montana granite. In the antique French mirror just behind it, an embedded screen entertains the patrons with cutting-edge art videos.

Le Bar du Bristol was designed to attract a younger, cooler, more local crowd to the venerable hotel, which has always done a good job luring the monied celebrity set. Its guests over the years have included actors like Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, and George Clooney, as well as pols such as Russian president Vladimir Putin and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, the supermodel Carla Bruni.

Small wonder. The Bristol is as cloistered-feeling as it is elegant. After all, notes Arnaud Martin, the hotel’s personable young sales manager: “This district is the most secure in Paris.”

Just a few streets over from, and roughly paralleling, the famed Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore isn’t merely safe, though. It’s also one of the ritziest fashion streets in the world.

We discovered that early one morning, on a leisurely walk in a gentle rain toward the Musee du Louvre. Less than a minute from the hotel we encountered armed gendarmes in front of the stately Elysee Palace, the residence of the French president.

Continuing along, we strolled past the swankiest designer boutiques imaginable. Like competing spreads in Vogue magazine, each was sleeker and more impossibly chic than the last: Cardin, Burberry, Zegna, YSL, Lancome, Valentino, Givenchy, Chanel, Cartier, Lanvin, Bottega Veneta, Faconnable, Dolce & Gabbano, Prada, Missoni, and Ferragamo.

View of the hotel's French-style garden. Photo by Glenn Hunter

Everywhere on our walk, the vaunted Parisian sense of fashion and style was evident. On the streets, where the women displayed an effortless elan and every man, it seemed, sported a perfect, casually knotted scarf. At the unique, glass-paned Louvre pyramid, where visitors queued up to see a new exhibition called “Raphael: Les Dernieres Annees.” Even in the billboards, which advertised a futuristic new high-rise building complex designed by, who else, Pierre Cardin.

The Bristol, by contrast, is anything but futuristic, as those who’ve seen Woody Allen’s romantic comedy, Midnight in Paris, will know. Most of the hotel scenes in the film, which stars Rachel McAdams and Dallas native Owen Wilson, were shot inside the Panoramic Suite. That suite, typical of the Bristol, is all white walls, gold fixtures, and classic Louis XV and Louis XVI-style furnishings.

“I didn’t stay there, but Woody stayed there,” says Wilson, who plays a writer in Midnight who finds himself transported from modern-day Paris to the Paris of the 1920s. “I’ve stayed there before. It’s a great hotel and … I’m sure their business must be booming. It always is.”

The opening of Le Bar culminated a three-year, 110 million-Euro renovation project at the Bristol, the first hotel in Paris to be granted the new “Palace Hotel” designation by the French government.

Part of the Oetker Collection of luxury hotels owned by the Oetker family of Germany, the hotel extended and refurbished its acclaimed French-style spa, created a couple of signature suites, and opened a new wing with its “luxury brasserie,” 114 Faubourg, overseen by chef Eric Desbordes.

The Bristol also boasts a signature gastronomic restaurant, called Epicure. Overlooking a flower-filled, French-style garden, Epicure won three stars in the Michelin Guide under head chef Eric Frechon, who’s widely considered the best chef in France.

The refreshened hotel now boasts 188 rooms, including 88 suites, many of which look out on the Eiffel Tower. Each is airy and light and quintessentially French, with rose-colored couches, mirrored closets, tall ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and classic artwork on its pale walls.

There’s a wonderful old elevator made of wrought iron and glass, and even a 2-year-old, white-furred kitten, named Fa-raon, who has the run of the place. Indeed, for a property where the rooms start at 850 Euros per night—and top out at 10,760—the Bristol is surprisingly unpretentious.

A typical suite at le Bristol. Photo courtesy Hotel le Bristol

But always, always, the hotel exudes the famed Parisian panache. Certain weekends bring “Fashion Saturdays,” an upscale English tea service showcasing fashions from some of the world’s finest designers. The Saturday I was there, for example, guests sipped Champagne and nibbled finger sandwiches while stunning models showed off the winter 2012 offerings from the fashion house founded by the late Loris Azzaro.

The last night of my brief stay found me back in Le Bar du Bristol. An Asian deejay was playing an electronic remix of “I Can’t Go for That,” the classic Hall and Oates song. The screen behind the bar was showing an avante-garde video by Adrien Missika, a much-lauded Parisian artist.

Over in one corner, a prosperous-looking man in a tuxedo sat drinking quietly with his female companion. Across the way there was an elderly gentleman with two women, one wearing a tall, black, Russian Cossack fur hat. On stools at the long bar, meantime, two young guys flanked a beautiful woman in her early 20s, all of them chattering away in French.

It’s too early to say, of course, whether Le Bar will succeed in upping the Bristol’s “cool” factor. But at this late hour, my own midnight in Paris, it all seemed very cool—and stylish and fashionable—to me.

This trip was provided by Lou Hammond & Associates and the Oetker Collection of luxury hotels.

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