A City’s Crown Jewel is Reborn

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My heart leapt with joy back in June as I entered the fabled Ritz Paris, on the storied Place Vendôme, after the hotel’s 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 modernized enough to compete with the new Shangri-La, the freshly groomed Four Seasons Hotel George V, or the updated and totally chic Plaza Athénée? With a huge sigh of relief, the answer is yes on all counts. The soul of the Ritz—with its Belle Époque grand-hôtel allure—remains exactly the same. Indeed, it is fresher than ever, and more sparkling with light, but its charm remains completely intact. The grand dowager has had a facelift 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 know you are in a luxurious haven of another era. The Ritz remains an oasis of refined opulence like a mirage in the desert; it shimmers as if in a dream.

French-born architect and designer Thierry Despont has managed to keep the soul of the Ritz unchanged while giving it a complete renovation. The rooms are now equipped with Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and a concealed flat television, but the gold-plated swan bath fixtures remain in place, polished to perfection. The long entrance gallery with a perch over the garden looks like it did 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 service of gourmet high-tea savories and sweets, with or without a coupe de Champagne. Crumpets are served with butters in all sorts of exotic flavors. A reservation for this sumptuous tea is a must.

Bar Vendôme, 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, and Grace Kelly adorn the walls. At lunch, le tout Paris has returned, along with a bevy of American families and fashion celebrities. The adjoining garden has been transformed into two glass conservatories with retractable roofs that allow for en-plein-air dining all year long. The Bar Vendôme offers a classic French brasserie menu, while the property’s haute gastronomic restaurant, L’Espadon, features truly epicurean cooking in the tradition of Auguste Escoffier, the famous French chef who originally directed the Ritz’s celebrated kitchens. The main room of L’Espadon is inspired by 18th-century France, with pale boiseries and a sky-blue ceiling out of a Watteau painting.

lobby-%e2%88%8f-vincent-leroux-2As in former days, a long shopping gallery joins the Vendôme side of the Ritz with the rue Cambon. The vitrines have historically offered a dazzling choice of diamond and gold jewelry, couture fashion, or more affordable stationery, socks, and glitzy costume jewelry. Prices varied from a trinket at $20 to far heftier sums. Today, the fabled window-shopping is all de luxe, with one couture dress or one necklace displayed as a stand-alone piece. It is simpler and more refined, though no less expensive. These display cases now overlook a beautifully landscaped interior garden designed by the renowned French landscape artist Jean Mus. Walking the corridor is a true feast for the eyes.

At the end of this dazzling promenade lies the fabled Bar Hemingway and the new Ritz Bar. Hemingway adored the Ritz. As before, the world’s most famous barman, Colin Peter Field, presides over this veritable kingdom of cocktails. The menu of custom drinks is staggering, with a “clean” Dirty Martini among the myriad of choices. Today, a collection of Hemingway memorabilia—from typewriters and old photos to hunting trophies—graces the walls and tables of this intimate space, which is once again alive with a happy buzz.

Just next door, the newly opened Ritz Bar is a small lacquered box of a space that seems out of Art Deco times. With a menu of French bistro 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.

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a novella called The Diamond as Big as the Ritz—an apt title, especially for today, given that the Ritz Paris glitters more brightly than ever. A drink or meal at the Ritz may very well set you back the price of a diamond, but, for once, splurge and indulge yourself. You won’t regret it.

The Ritz Paris: 15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris; +33 1.43.16.30.30 or ritzparis.com.