You don’ have to be a guest at the city’s famous palace hotels to enjoy some of their unique holiday atmosphere, the elaborate Christmas decorations — and the certainty that they’re not closed nor packed beyond belief like Ladurée.
I’m a big fan of afternoon tea at the Four Seasons George V. This season they have a special cinnamon and spice Christmas tea. I had it with a slice of banana bread, but they have a whole cartload of pastries, cakes and cookies to choose from. I also heard a rumor (still unconfirmed) that the owner is a huge cheesecake fan, so I expect their cheesecake is superb (the French are not known for being particularly good at cheesecake, so yes this is a big deal). The hotel’s Christmas trees, conceived by the Artistic Director Jeff Leatham, are decorated with garlands of hot pink neon and violet balls (inspired by the American artist Dan Flavin). It certainly makes for a change from the traditional French flocking!
Elsewhere around Paris, the Ritz has a new Ritz Bar (across the hall from the Hemingway Bar), with a darker lounge club atmosphere and — on weekends — electro lounge music (open from 6:30pm). Although the atmosphere (and the crowd) are a bit younger than their average gilded clientele, the cocktails are still €22.
The Plaza Athénée is always a good bet for drinks at the trendy bar (evenings only). They have new touch-screen drinks menus so you can see pictures of each cocktail. For the holidays there’s an ice rink in the courtyard (open until December 31) reserved for guests of the hotel (but the PR rep told us that if you dine at the hotel you’d be allowed in…perhaps hot chocolate and pastries in the Galerie des Gobelins before a spin?)
Philippe Starck has redecorated the public spaces in the Hotel Meurice inspired by one of the hotel’s most renowned clients, Salvador Dali. The stained glass Art Nouveau ceiling in the Winter Garden has been replaced by a surrealist mural, the chairs are now covered in mismatched materials like cowhide, and even the piano has a bizarre surrealist shape. The restaurant has also been redone, and is now called Le Dali. Thankfully, the Bar Fontainebleau has not been changed at all, and still has a wonderfully coy atmosphere for an evening digestif.