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A Time To Remember At The Hôtel San Régis In Paris

One of the hottest books of the 2005 Christmas season is “Woman in the Mirror,” Richard Avedon’s paean to feminine beauty across five decades of the past century. Among the legendry actresses and high-fashion models that appear in this hefty tome is the photographer’s wife Evelyn, posing in exuberant mood, in the couple’s suite at the Hôtel San Régis in Paris.

The San Régis is the only hotel to appear in this collection of 135 photographs.  But then the beautiful 1857 townhouse turned boutique hotel does stand alone. Located on the quiet and virtually private rue Jean Goujon where traffic and tourists are rarely seen, it is at the same time in the very heart of the eighth arrondisement and Paris’ fashionable Golden Triangle. Around the corner and down the way is the Avenue Montaigne, the fabled boulevard of high-fashion dreams; a few blocks away, the Champs Elysées comes to its dramatic conclusion at the Place de la Concorde. The Grand Palais and Petit Palais, the  Pont de la Concord crossing the Seine to the Left Bank and the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre to the east, and the Eiffel Tower to the west are all within comfortable walking distance.

The San Régis has been a hotel for more than eighty years. Yet it still retains the aura and ambience of the exclusive private residence it once was perhaps because through its long history, the property has been owned and operated by just a few individuals. Simon André Terrail, proprietor of La Tour d’Argent, turned the townhouse into a hotel after purchasing it in 1923; the current owners, the Georges family, came onto the scene more than half a century later. Throughout, it has been an insider’s place, a well-kept secret of sorts. Drive into Paris without the address, and it will take many a query before you’ll find someone who actually knows where the San Régis is. But to its loyal and repeat clientele, which include many a celebrity and fashionista, no directions are needed. Where else would Gene Kelly have repaired to after a day of shooting “An American in Paris”?

That film was made during post-war years, a heady time for the fashion industry internationally and Paris in particular. As the City of Light strove to reclaim its title of “world capital of haute couture,” the little hotel around the corner and down the street from Christian Dior’s boutique was both witness and participant. When the designer came out with his “New Look,” Carmel Snow came to the San Régis. There, ensconced in a luxurious flower-filled suite, the petite but savvy editor of “Harper’s Bazaar” wrote the articles (often accompanied by Avedon photographs) that acquainted America with Dior’s romantic and at the same time revolutionary reaction to the severe military-inspired dress of the World War II period.

By 1975, however, the San Régis was in need of some sprucing up. Propitiously around that time, Elie Georges, a businessman from Beruit with experience in the hotel industry, had resettled in Paris and was looking for a property to develop. When he came upon the San Régis, he knew his search had come to an end. He summoned his brothers Joseph and Maurice from Lebanon, and together they embarked upon a project of restoration and enhancement assisted by the famed French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. It took another decade before the renovations were completed to the Georges’ brothers satisfaction, and the new San Régis was ready for company.

But for the discreetly tucked away reception desk or a courteous staff person at the ready, one would be hard pressed to find evidence of a commercial establishment at the San Régis. Instead, one enters the hotel with the sense of having come into an exquisitely decorated private home. The public area is split into a series of levels, each of which has its own uses and identity yet remains part of an aesthetic whole. Marble floors in the entryway give way to thick floral carpeting in the gallery lounge where museum-quality paintings adorn 19th century oak wall paneling original to the 1857 residence. Furnishings are authentic Louis XV, Louis XVI, Empire, and Chippendale pieces with sofas and chairs upholstered in fine damasks and silks of warm and vibrant colors.  Wherever one looks, an exceptional piece of art or antique greets the eye like the magnificent cherub-adorned brass clock on the mantle of a white marble fireplace, the collection of blue and white Chinese porcelain, the “medallion” 18th century-style painting  above the tiny gilded lift, lamps of massive bronze and Baccarat glass.

 Some objects were part of the 19th century townhouse’s decor, some were acquired by the hotel’s first owner, while others still were acquisitions of Elie Georges, a connoisseur of art and antiquities.

The palatial ambience extends to every one of the spacious high-ceilinged 33 guest rooms and 11 suites. Repeat guests (an incredible 65%) often become attached to a particular room and are disappointed when it is occupied for the time they require. Yet, no replacement at the San Régis can disappoint. Although similar in style, each one is unique and decorated in a specific color theme: cream/ beige/yellow/ gold; plum/crimson/scarlet; pale blue/azure/navy with masses of luxurious fabrics in draperies and at headboards. Furniture and objects d’art are a blend of the authentic and excellent reproductions – a true rarity in a hotel room. There are separate sitting areas and dressing rooms and ultra deluxe bath facilities (toiletries, not unexpectedly, are Hermes). Yet, within this charmed world suggestive of a Paris of another day, one finds every contemporary requirement from high-speed Internet connection to satellite television.

The San Régis restaurant befits both the hotel’s size and its quality, a seeming private dining room/library in shades of red, green and gold, with two trompel’oiel panels filled with handsome book covers, and paisley wall covering of an old design re-created especially for the hotel. On a level of its own, the restaurant overlooks the dark wood English bar and the adjacent Winter Garden. Originally an open courtyard, the Georges turned the space into a comfortable parlor topped with a ceiling of transparent panels  that allow the room to be flooded with natural light during the day. A corner space is enclosed by glass doors creating  a miniature greenhouse where exotic flora flourish.

We had been at the San Régis for dinner several years ago. This time we were joined by the lovely Sabrina Blanc Miele. “It’s hard nowadays to find a true French restaurant,” the fair-complexioned, multi-lingual, Italian-born director of public relations told us. “You have the fusion cuisine, all these mixtures of everything. But if you want a traditional French cuisine, you can find it here. Which is natural when you are in Paris.”

A traditional French dinner would suit us fine, we thought, perusing a menu of exceptional range for a dining room that accommodates a maximum of 35 at a single seating. There were seven choices of appetizer, three soups, two pastas, and ten entrées. From among them, we fashioned an efficiently yet  graciously-served, dinner of scallops sautéed in garlic butter with fennel, a salad of beans and pine nuts with little triangles of artichokes, poached red mullet with a lively tapenade, and rack of lamb with rosemary. There was an ample cheese tray, an array of tempting desserts (we all selected the flaky apple tart with cinnamon ice cream), and a substantial all-French wine list from which we opted for a red Saint-Julien Bordeaux. “We have some wines that are not very well known, but they are very good,” Sabrina said.

“Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily with something different every day which is good for the businessman who wants to organize a little party,” she added. “You see, the restaurant exists for the hotel guests. Sometimes at lunch we will accept people from the outside particularly if they are associates of our guests. But some of our guests stay for as long as a month.  And we want them, indeed we want all our guests, to assume there will be always a table and a quiet environment for them.”

Sabrina had come to the San Régis to direct sales and press relations some years before. She left for a while, then returned in 2004.  “Mr. Georges knew I had left my previous job and called me, inviting me to come back,” she told us. “The staff, most of whom have been here for many years, told me ‘It is like you never left.’ I feel the same way.”

But while she was away, there had been some changes. Suites had been renovated for the second time; there was a new head chef (the previous sous chef), and Elie Georges’ son, Charles, had completed his university education and come on board.

The prince charming-handsome heir-apparent radiates the same welcoming warmth one finds in his father and uncles who combine an aristocratic bearing with a down-to-earth friendliness that is quite infectious. He is anxious to perpetuate the intimate home-like quality of the San Régis. “That is why people come back to us again and again,” he said. “It is rare in Paris to find a family owned hotel like this. Even the Crillon is now is a Starwood property. Here we know our guests, and each one gets a special welcome by us.”

The combination is rare as well: the quality of furnishings, paintings, and objects d’art – so exceptional in a hotel, the fine French cuisine emerging from a small but excellent kitchen, the abundance of fresh flowers which fill the entry with their perfume providing a memorable first impression, the luxury and comfort of rooms and public spaces, the attentive service of 40 employees, and not least -- the welcoming attitude of the Georges family. Together they make the experience of staying at the San Régis a time to remember.

Hôtel San Régis
12 rue Jean Goujon
75008 Paris

Phone: 33 (0) 1 44 96 16 16

A Small Hotel of the World.

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
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

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

 

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