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 The Discrete Charm of Paris' San Regis Hotel

There’s a throwaway line in the movie “The Way We Were” where Robert Redford asks Barbra Streisand the name of her favorite hotel, and she says, “The San Regis in Paris.” Of course, the left-wing character Streisand plays in the film would be an unlikely guest at the luxurious Right Bank hotel, but her response was on target, evocative of a place of discrete charm and grace, known only to those in the know, and located in the world’s most romantic city.

It’s a small hotel, only 44 rooms – no two of which are alike. The one John Grisham favors has a balcony that looks out over the rooftops of Paris across the river to the Eiffel Tower. To see such a view on a moonlit night is to understand Paris’ eternal allure. Grisham, Lauren Bacall, Romy Schneider, Candace Bergen, and the real Barbra Streisand are among the well known who have frequented this exclusive retreat on the Rue Jean Goujon in the fashionable eighth arrondissement.

A quiet street, only two blocks long, the Rue Jean Goujon seems hidden within the Golden Triangle, the area roughly bounded by the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde. But a brief walk in any direction leads to a range of fabulous destinations: the haute couture shops of Avenue George V, Avenue Montaigne, and Rue Francois; the Grand Palais, and the Champs Elysees; the Place de la Concorde opening on to the Seine, the Tuilleries, and the Louvre beyond.

Although state-of-the-art in terms of technology and modern comforts, the San Regis still looks like the elegant 19th century townhouse it once had been.  Split-level public rooms are decorated with authentic furnishings from the Louis XV, Regency, and Napoleon III eras and accessorized with antique paintings and  objects d’art including some Sevres pieces that are truly magnificent.

The feeling of being in a private home is enhanced by the experience of dining at the San Regis in an exquisite space designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, who has done interiors for the Georges V in Paris and Essex House in New York. The raised recess at the far end of the bar/lounge has room for only four tables covered in creamy damask with olive green undercloths, a Regency-styled fireplace and several antique buffets. The two side walls are covered with a paisley fabric in warm tones of  gold, red, and green that echoes the carpet’s design while the back wall is paneled in fine oak and decorated with what appears to be a pair of trompe-l’oiel bookshelves but are actually book covers and linings, an interesting play between illusion and reality.

In an area filled with great restaurants, the small dining room of the San Regis stakes a particular claim appealing not only to hotel guests but people who live and work in the neighborhood. This much we learned from the young and lovely Anne Wencelius, Director of Sales, who joined us for dinner on a mild September evening. The daughter of a forestry specialist, Anne was born in Cameroon, lived in the Ivory Coast, the French West Indies, and Washington D.C. before her parents sent her home to Paris  to be educated at the Sorbonne. Along the way, she developed, among other things, a sophisticated palate for food and wine.

The San Regis menu, prepared by a chef who has been at the hotel for more than a decade, is based wholly on fresh ingredients and takes advantage of seasonal bounties. 

As of the moment, these included sea scallops Anne told us, suggesting the warm salad of lentils, carrots, and a small crepe that held four pearl-like scallops.  An excellent choice, enhanced with a dressing of tangy pear-flavored vinegar.  

The single gracious waiter

It was served along with the rest of our dinner -- and fittingly, given the small dimensions of the dining area -- by a single gracious waiter. He then presented salty Norwegian smoked salmon on a bed of dill and little triangles of artichokes surrounding French beans and topped with pine nuts.

Anne recommended the poached sea bream from Brittany which was fragrant with thyme, cooked to just the right degree and served in a tarragon sauce – the two herbs blending harmoniously. There was also entrecorte so tender, the absence of steak knives was not even noticed. For dessert, one of us had the standard and ever-luscious crème brulee with orange rinds while the other took Anne ’s advice once again and went for the prunes with red pepper chutney and caramelized pine nuts. This exotic combination, an anomaly on the otherwise classic French menu, was sharp, sweet, and crunchy – an interesting and delicious departure from the norm.

The wine list was more predictable: all-French and reasonably priced from 25 to 100 Euros (the dollar/Euro ratio being nearly equal at the time of our visit). There were red and white Burgundies and Bordeaux, a few Loire Valley vintages, three roses and champagne. We had an excellent red Chambolle-Musigny, 1997, which was warm and not at all aggressive. “It will be even better in five years,” said Anne who prefers Burgundies to Bordeaux – “They are too aggressive and dry up your mouth.”

After dinner, we retreated to a little alcove off the lounge before French doors that led to a hidden garden. “We have people here who have been coming for years,” Anne told us as we lingered over coffee. “Some of our French guests tell us the San Regis seems like a British country house. But our British guests tell us it’s like a French country house.”

This pair of Americans did not feel equipped to take a stand. We could, however, vouch for a luxurious environment, a great dinner, and a blissful evening in a serenely beautiful retreat in the heart of a bustling Parisian neighborhood.

Hotel San Regis
12 Rue Jean Goujon
75008 Paris

Phone: 01 44 95 16 16

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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