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Style on Ice in the 18 ème: Kube Hotel, Paris

It is a place you must discover. You won’t come across it in an ad. Perhaps you'll overhear people talking about it, or maybe someone you know will tell you about it.  But even with an address, you’ll find it hard to find. Our taxi driver drove down Passage Ruelle, stopped at the end of the street, turned and said, “There is no hotel here.” He was about to take us back to where we came from when a man came running up and tapped on the window. “Are you looking for the Kube?” he asked and gestured back towards the middle of the block where we could make out an old building behind a stone wall.

Off-the-beaten-path would hardly begin to describe the locale, a dense, largely working-class community in the 18th arrondissement where many immigrants from Africa, India, and the Middle East have settled. Tourists rarely venture to this neighborhood on the northern edge of Paris which -- albeit a walking distance from Montmartre -- has none of the monuments or museums, haute couture boutiques or haute cuisine restaurants that would earn it mention in a Paris guide.

And yet, the 41-room Kube has become one hot destination. Or maybe cool would be more appropriate. Cool as in cold, cold as in ice, ice as in the Ice Bar -- the first in Paris. Patrons who wish to inhale the rarified air climb the swirling stairway to a mezzanine level that overlooks the restaurant/bar below, pass through a gallery lined with photographs of Innuits where they are outfitted with parkas, gloves and caps, take a deep breath, and step into a frozen ice-blue fantasia.

Before them, a hexagon-shaped bar made of enormous ice cubes and adorned with graceful icicles is serving Grey Goose vodka in glasses made of ice, and cubes in the shape of armchairs are facing a "fire in ice" spectacle of flames emanating from a great ice mirror. Visitors have thirty minutes to sit before the fire or hang out at the bar, carve their initials in the ice, and listen to music wafting through the frozen air while the rays of the spectrum filter through the glassy ice.

A truly adventurous couple might opt to spend the night in the Ice Bedroom next door where they can snuggle under blankets of fur on a bed of ice enclosed by transparent walls of ice weighing ten tons and sculpted by the renowned ice-sculptor Michael Amman. Most visitors, however, after their half hour in the Ice Bar, exit down to the more temperate climes of the restaurant/bar below where hip, if less hardy, Kube clientele gather every evening to drink and dine accompanied by the selections of Dan Adrien, a man of far-reaching and eclectic tastes.

Kube's DJ/ Music Manager Dan Adrien (left) with DJ/guitarist Bruno Evin - click to enlarge
Kube's DJ/ Music Manager Dan Adrien
(left) with DJ/guitarist Bruno Evin

Music at Kube is continuous and of limitless variety from swing to r & b to jazz to disco to Latin to rock to pop to hip-hop. It emerges from speakers, some free-standing, others disguised as lanterns, that project sound in the round, enhancing the mood, but miraculously never inhibiting the conversation.

Light, as much as sound, defines the Kube decor. Dramatic spots or washes of cobalt blue, brilliant red, hot pink, and deep purple illuminate an otherwise black background. As opposed to the all-white guest rooms, black is the color of choice in public areas. Glass tabletops, fur-covered barstools and portals, walls, ceilings, even the attractive servers' uniforms are black.  But there are also masses of long silver streamers that drop from the mezzanine ceiling or roof of the bar, each tipped with what looks like a match-like glow. Actually these are fiber optics, strands of flexible cable through which light travels. Wherever they end, there is a point of light.

At the same time, video screens at either end of the bar draw the eye with repeated sequences. There is the animated penguin skating across a field of ice or opening a refrigerator door to reveal a dancing ice cube that soon begins to melt. And there are abstract designs: the computer chip that morphs into a geometric construct that opens like a flower and endlessly re-forms in psychedelic kaleidoscopic patterns.

The images would be trance-inducing except that the live-action scene is even more compelling. It is a lively mix of artists and writers, people from the worlds of fashion, broadcasting, and entertainment who regularly schlep up to this unlikely, out-of-the-way neighborhood to partake of the Kube experience: the Ice Bar, the Sound and Light displays, the interesting range of drinks, the excellent brasserie-style fare, the "pousspouce" ("push--push") menu of tasty combinations like croustillant with tomatoes and mozzarella, or chicken and curry sauce on a push-up pop, as well as a host of  special events like the popular "Girly Wednesday" when the sound booth is turned over to a woman for the mid-week night. Generally a well-known singer, television or film personality, or professional DJ, she does the selecting, spinning and mixing and decides what Kube will sound like on a particular night.

On Sundays, the culmination of on-going showings by artists of the avant-garde takes place. Through the week, a participating artist's works will be on display in the restaurant/lounge. Come Sunday, he or she will meet up with patrons for the "Arty Brunch," an informal encounter where thoughts about the showcased art or the larger art scene are shared over such delicacies as tuna tartar and Viennese pastries in a specially designed buffet.

Nothing at Kube is ordinary.

Everything is extraordinary.  

When the hotel took part in the annual autumn Art Vida, it was with a group of video artists who projected their works on the white walls of guest rooms and the courtyard fronting the hotel.  An original program in the city-wide art exhibition, it drew people who had never been in the neighborhood before let alone heard about a high-style hotel up there.

If all this makes for quite a story, there is an even larger story behind it that began in 2003 when Jérôme Foucaud, a young hotelier from St. Trôpez, came up to Paris with the idea of creating an urban destination that would defy the expected. That was Murano Urban Resort which opened in Marais the following year. A stunning study in white with technological accents not seen in Marais before, Murano swiftly became a favored site for fashion shoots and a gathering ground for the cognescenti. Kube followed in late 2005; Murano Resort-Marrakech (Morocco) in 2008. A fourth property on the site of an old hospital in St. Trôpez is on the way.  

A common style and attitude runs through the properties of the small but singular brand: Murano Hotels and Resort Group. They share a stark, neo-modern décor, high-tech features, a pop-art sensibility and a luxuriousness that never precludes playfulness. Futuristic on the inside (in lieu of room keys, the Murano and Kube make use of guests' fingerprints), they are anchored in traditional locales and undistinguished or formerly abandoned buildings.

A culture has emerged among the people who make up a team that the laid back and soft-spoken but insightful Jérôme Foucaud has assembled.  They are young, energetic, and charismatic. The sense they convey of being in on something special is palpable. Many move from one property to another. All have a story to tell of how they came to be part of this legend in the making.

DJ Dan Adrien is  Jérôme's childhood friend from the French Alps. Lorris Camarzana, whom we met at Murano several years ago, was hired after writing to Jérôme that he understood "the spirit of the place of dreams." Still in his 20s, he seemed more serious and mature when he joined us for dinner at Kube and talked about the new project in St. Trôpez where he was headed the next day.

"Many famous people come to Kube," he added, turning to the subject at hand with the authority of a man who has assumed greater responsibilities. "Especially in the fashion world. It’s not only a hotel. It’s the bar, the restaurant, the ice bar. There is life here."

Lorris Camarzana-- he's assumed greater responsibility in the Murano Group - click to enlarge
Lorris Camarzana-- he's assumed greater
responsibility in the Murano Group

Daytime Restaurant Manager Patrick Toni: "There's a different atmosphere here, unlike anything I experienced before." - click to enlarge
Daytime Restaurant Manager Patrick Toni: "There's a different
atmosphere here, unlike anything I experienced before."

The tall and fair-skinned Marie Eve Foulier with luminous dark eyes and long black hair that falls over her shoulders is Kube's press and events manager. Years before she and Jérôme had worked at the same hotel in St. Trôpez. "Before he left, he organized a party and invited all the staff to say goodbye," she.told us. "I stayed until the end of the evening when he told everyone 'I’m opening a new hotel in Paris called the Murano,' and he gave out cards."

She continued, "Two years later, when I realized it was time for me to move to Paris and get on with my communications career, I found his card and sent him an e-mail. And he wrote back to me saying 'Okay, come to Paris and maybe we can think of something.'

"I took the train from Toulon, a four hour ride just for one interview. We talked a lot, and at the end, he said, 'Okay now I’m going to tell you.  I’m going to open another hotel. Maybe I’ll need someone with your qualifications. Let me think about it because it’s still too early.'

"Less than a month later, he called me. And I started at Kube."

We were having lunch with Marie after she'd spent the morning on a fashion shoot in the atelier beside the Ice Bar with  Aissa Maija. "She is a trendy young actress in the French cinema who is going to be on the cover of  Modzik, a magazine that combines fashion and music," Marie Eve said. "She uses our image, and we get to communicate data about our hotel. During the shoot, I took the opportunity of talking to her about 'Girly Wednesday.' She thought it was a wonderful idea.  So I expect to have her back. It’s a question of connecting and branding. Everyone benefits."

Virginie Barbe had been connected to Kube for only four months when we met her. And we never did get her story of how she came by way of her position. But the vivacious general manager with the voluminous red hair and the look of a figure in a Renoir painting, is clearly a comfortable fit in the Murano family. And comfort is a quality she strives for. "The whole team tries to do our best to keep the Kube as a comfortable place where people can relax and be themselves," she told us over drinks at the bar.

Emerging through a portal of fur: Marie Eve Foulier - click to enlarge
Emerging through a portal of fur: Marie Eve Foulier

"But we also want to extend ourselves to be part of the community, to participate in what goes on around us," she added. "Here in the 18th arrondissement, there are many Indian people who celebrate a special festival in the fall. They wear traditional costumes and walk around through the streets. Last year we didn’t know about it. We only found out when our guests couldn’t get to the hotel because of all the traffic. But this year we will celebrate it with a special party."

Virginie Barbe, the G.M.  with voluminous red hair - click to enlarge
Virginie Barbe, the G.M.  with voluminous red hair

She went on, "In this arrondissement you have people of all colors, all ethnicities. There used to be many arrondissements like this, but now immigrant communities are increasingly on the outskirts of the city. This is the last one in Paris where so many nationalities live together peaceably.

"Jérôme liked the challenge of moving to a place where no one had thought of opening such a hotel. That is like him – he wants to be different; he likes challenges. Perhaps because he is not from Paris, he has the ability to stand back and look at it in a different way, to see which neighborhoods are not typical and therefore more interesting.     

"Our story is similar to the Murano's," said Virginie. "Murano is in le Marais which, since the hotel opened, has become so hot. And the 18th is going in the same direction. Others will be following Kube."

Kube Hotel
1-5 Passage Ruelle

Paris 18    France
Phone: +33 (0) 1 42 05 20 00

Window view of buildings in the 18th - click to enlarge
Window view of buildings in the 18th

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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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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