Last week I had the privilege of touring the Hotel Plaza Athénée, a 5 star Dorchester Collection hotel on Avenue Montaigne amidst some of the most expensive real estate in all of Paris. I say privilege because I really felt like an undeserving imposter. I was invited after all because I am a blogger living in Paris who happens to have a friend at the D.C. Based Travel Onion which organized the event. My fellow bloggers and I were invited under the pretext that we would eventually write something about the hotel. I am not generally in the business of writing fluff promotional hotel pieces since most of my articles stem from my own subjective observations of french people and culture. This may not be what the Hotel or Travel Onion expected, but any publicity is good publicity right?
Our group was comprised of mostly young female writers from the U.S., though there were a few bona fide Parisiennes, a Brit, and one camera toting Monsieur. There were some serious blogging veterans like Heather Stimmler-Hall of the perennial favorite Secrets of Paris, and others like me who just started blogging within the past year and boast a rather humble following.
(Incidentally, Heather was kind enough to direct me to the Hotel when we both emerged from the underground at the same time. How did she know I was going to the same event? Because only Americans run when they are late. So much for trying to become Parisienne.)
We all convened in the lobby and were greeted by two charming young reps for the Hotel who proceeded to give us an overview of the place and introduce us to a few of the Hotel’s key players. As I stood there half listening and half drooling over all the orchids scattered around the lobby, I noticed that my comrades, at first somewhat nervous and shy, were suddenly transformed into professional journalists, scribbling on notepads with intensely furrowed brows. I snapped into action and began digging through my purse for some kind of writing implement. When my search turned up two tubes of lipgloss and no pens (what on earth had I prepared myself for?) I sheepishly withdrew to the front desk for a stylo. Total Bridget Jones moment.
If Michael Jackson wants smarties, Michael Jackson gets smarties!
Eiffel Tower Suite, Hotel Plaza Athénée
The Hotel caters to its clients with two styles of rooms. One for antique lovers and one for those with a more art deco bent. For the art deco example room we were shown one of the Eiffel suites, with a full frontal view of the iconic monument. Incidentally this was also the room where Michael Jackson spent his last visit to Paris, with the added enhancement of several heaping bowls of smarties as per the King of Pop’s request. At a price tag of 9,000 € a night, there better be some fucking smarties!
For 22,000 euro a night, that room better come with a yacht.
Royal Suite, Hotel Plaza Athénée
Royal Suite-Mr Bedroom
Royal Suite-Mrs Bedroom
The Eiffel Suite isn’t even the Plaza Athénée’s most expensive room though. For 22,000 € a night you can stay in the Royal Suite, or what I like to call the Mafia headquarters. Weighing in at 450 square meters, the suite has ample room to hold dinner parties for 12, sleepovers for 8, and bath time for as many people you can fit in two turkish baths and a jacuzzi. There are quarters for your security personnel, two “security spaces” (panic rooms?), and two finger print scanners, one for each entrance to the suite. Practically every room is outfitted with some kind of high tech “is it a mirror, is it a TV?” contraption and every square inch is dripping with decadence. So basically it’s the perfect vacation rental for a Mafia lord and his henchmen, harem, and bodyguards.
Think of all the things you could do for 22,000 € in Paris, or hell in your life. I’m sure that is chump change to some, but honestly, I can’t imagine a one night experience being worth that much. Maybe if Paul Newman (if he wasn’t so dead), Brad Pitt (if he wasn’t so with Angelina), Jeff Bridges (if he wasn’t so famous), Alexander Skarsgård (if he wasn’t quite so pale), Javier Bardem (if he wasn’t so scary), Vincent Cassel (if he wasn’t so French), Christian Bale (if he wasn’t so angry), and Rafael Nadal (if his biceps weren’t so disproportionate) were there with me, maybe then I would I consider dropping 22 Gs for one night.
The hotel is very proud of it’s fashionable Avenue Montaigne location, so it’s no surprise that Christian Dior was commissioned to design the hotel’s spa. The Dior Institut is an elegant spa indeed, brimming with Dior cosmetic products (my first bit of swag included some Dior face cream. Chaching!). To be honest though, I don’t find it therapeutic in the least to have video footage of runway shows featuring malnourished models playing in a spa. I find it terribly distracting and jarring. Fashion is probably the last thing I want to think about when I’m trying to relax in a bathrobe or in the buff. Honestly I found it more relaxing standing in the Hotel’s cold, dark wine cave than I did in the spa.
Dior Institut Runway Projection
“Ah yes, room service? I’d like to order some mice.”
One of our hostesses graciously recounted her strangest request anecdote at my insistence. Apparently one client woke up at 4 am, realized his pet snake was ravenous and nonchalantly called down to the front desk for some mice. How the hell do you get mice at that hour? A few options immediately pop to mind. You could go to most any late night Parisian bar and fine a few plump mice, but those have generally had years of experience dodging bartenders and cleaners so they may prove difficult to capture despite their portly physique. Alternatively you could go down to the metro and bait some metro rats, but I personally wouldn’t want to get into a tussle with a scrappy, mutant metro rat. What other option do you have? Well, if you are a resourceful Plaza Athénée employee, you could call up a local laboratory (everyone knows mad scientists don’t sleep) and get some well bred mice from there. And that is exactly what they did.
A note on the staff.
I was very impressed with the energy of all the staff. Most everyone I met was young, attractive, professional, and genuinely passionate about his or her respective position. I commend the hotel on this initiative, to get young blood into top ranking roles within the hotel. Oftentimes veteran luxury hotels will rest on their laurels with a very low employee turnover, and therefore with very few promising young professionals. It’s a French stereotype, really, to get a little too comfortable with tradition. That reluctance to change makes many hotels stuffy and antiquated. The Plaza however I feel will benefit from this injection of youth.
The Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée Restaurant
The most talked about chef in Paris hangs his hat at the Plaza Athénée (as well as on many other hat racks) with his eponymous restaurant. I did not get a chance to savor any of his 3 Michelin star creations. I will say though that the restaurant dining room was the most visually stunning of all the rooms I saw. This is due entirely to the incredible crystal installations. I completely tuned out this portion of the tour while I fixated on the pretty glittery prisms in the sky. To achieve this celestial masterpiece, hundreds of crystals were suspended from the ceiling by transparent lines, arranged to engulf two impressive chandeliers on either end of the room and create a larger, stunning visual with a gradually curving shape like that of a yacht hull. It had the effect that if you kept your eyes on one of the individually strung crystals and continued to walk around the installation, the “loose” crystals would appear to float around independently refracting a rainbow of light beams, while the main chandelier remained static. Suffice it to say that the effect was utterly breathtaking.
Alain Ducasse Plaza Athénée restaurant
Would I stay here?
If someone else was paying, absolutely. I would totally stay here and pretend that I lived in some glittery celluloid version of Paris where there is no dog shit on the streets nor dirty men to flash me in the metro.
In reality though, Paris to me is not about shopping on Avenue Montaigne or clubbing on the Champs Élysées or eating at an “Alain Ducasse brand” restaurant. It’s about reveling in the city’s incredible gastronomic renaissance where haute cuisine is no longer synonymous with high cost. It’s about shopping at eccentric boutiques in the Marais or sitting at a sidewalk café and watching Parisians who look like their dogs. It’s about buying the weirdest vegetable or the stinkiest cheese at a market. Paris is so much more visceral and alive than a 5 star hotel on some contrived luxury shopping street could ever show.
Le Bar du Plaza Athénée
Ok fine, but would I drink here?
Definitely. It’s hard to find a good cocktail bar in Paris so I am all for going back and ordering a drink off their new age electronic menu and eating some molecular gastronomic bar food.
In Summary: 3 COOL THINGS
1) The Bar: “Edible cocktails” concept, like fancy jello shots or popsicles. Cocktails are displayed on a digital, ipad like menu so you see what you’re getting before you get it.
2) The Décor: Incredible, jaw-dropping chandeliers of all shapes and sizes throughout the hotel.
3) The Staff: warm, youthful, savvy individuals with a lot of personality.
3 NOT SO COOL THINGS
1) The Dior Spa: Think about how antithetical fashion and spas are to each other. For instance, how could a model even GET a deep tissue massage? There’s not enough tissue!
2) The Location: The Hotel is set in an uninteresting corporate and luxury shopping neighborhood. How impersonal could it get?
3) The Price tag: The cheapest room costs 715 euro, and that’s only for a single. With the current exchange rate that’s 971 USD a night. Not to mention the suggested dinner menu will run you about 360 euro (489 USD) and that’s before you even open the wine menu.
Practical Info: The Hotel Plaza Athénée is located at 25 Avenue Montaigne in the 8th. Prices per night range from 715 € for a single to 22,000 € for the Royale Suite. Winter tasting menu at the Alain Ducasse restaurant for 350 € a person.