Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ralph Lauren's Paris Restaurant

The restaurant on the ground floor of Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Blvd. Saint Germain is all the rage in Paris. The menu is all American, and Mr. Lauren flies in his beef from his own ranch in Colorado. The cheeseburger, offered at 27€, is the hot menu item at present, but customers complain about the sub-standard fries (made from frozen potatoes). Popular offerings are steaks, Maryland crab cakes, Maine lobsters and shrimp cocktails. In true American fashion, patrons may depart with leftovers in doggie bags (Parisian restaurants do not allow this – ever). The restaurant’s staff is trained in the U.S.

Interior seating is centered around an enormous walk-in stone fireplace surrounded by raised panel wainscoting. An intimate bar serves classic cocktails, including Mint Juleps, Whiskey Sours, and frozen Margaritas. The 48-seat interior restaurant is housed in the former stables of the structure, and extensive seating is available in a magnificent courtyard, around which rises the 17th century hôtel particulier, which underwent four years of restoration. Ralph Lauren Paris holds five floors of Mr. Lauren’s retail offerings, as well. Each boutique is stunningly and lavishly decorated, as one would expect.

Ralph’s is open noon-2:30p (lunch) and 7:00p-11:00p (dinner)
Brunch on Sunday 11:30a-3:30p.
Reservations: 01 44 77 76 00
173 Boulevard Saint-Germain (Paris 6) at SW corner of Rue des Saints-Pères
Métro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kiosque des noctambules

Photo by Eric Tenin

The Art Nouveau subway entrances designed by Hector Guimard are world famous – one is even on display at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. However, a more recent one in Paris is an original work of modern art. This particular subway entrance canopy above the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre station, on Place Colette (named after the popular writer, 1873-1954), really calls attention to itself. It is called the Kiosque des noctambules (kiosk of the night owls), and consists of two domes – one representing night, the other day – made of chunks of colored glass intertwined with aluminum, giving the effect of jeweled crowns.

They were designed by contemporary artist Jean-Michel Othoniel (b. 1964, photo at right) for the RATP (the French public transportation organization) and installed in October, 2000, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Paris subway system.
Part of the whimsical fun of this artwork is its juxtaposition with the neo-classical architecture of the Comédie-Française theatre that fronts onto Place Colette.

Note: The Comédie-Française is the only state theatre in all of France, and one of the few to have its own troupe of actors, in this instance specializing in the performance of the plays of Molière. The terrace of Café Nemours surrounds the columns of this theatre, and overlooks the Kiosque des noctambules. Lunch here provides a great people-watching experience, as well – all the better for its location on a traffic-free pedestrian zone.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Palais Royal

Cardinal de Richelieu, the chief minister to Louis XIII, bought the old Hôtel Rambouillet and its surrounding properties in 1624, removed the buildings and built a magnificent residence and adjacent garden, known as the Palais Cardinal. Part of the complex was a theatre, commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu in 1641, and it was here that Molière produced his plays from 1660-1673. When Richelieu died in 1642, he bequeathed the entire estate to the crown.

Anne of Austria, regent of France after the death of her husband, Louis XIII, moved here from the Louvre and raised her family, which included her son, the future Louis XIV, who came to be known as the Sun King. From this point in time the structure and garden were called the Palais Royal. Louis XIV, having grown up here, eventually gave title of the Palais Royal to his brother, the Duc d’Orléans, and his family lived here until the Revolution of 1789.

In 1781, the Duc d'Orléans, later known as Philippe-Egalitié (who owned and developed the Parc de Monceau), enlarged the palace and shrank the garden, allowing for the construction of residences with regular arcaded facades on three sides of the garden. These modifications was completed in 1784. To offset construction expenses, the Duc d'Orléans built boutiques under the arcades and rented them out, opening the Jardin du Palais Royal to the public. However, he still considered the space private property and barred the police from any authority over it. It thereby became a place of liberty not found anywhere else in Paris, a gathering place for intellectuals and artists – and eventually gambling houses and prostitutes.

In 1786 a cannon was set up on the prime meridian of Paris (which bisects the garden), in which the sun’s noon rays, concentrated by passing through a glass lens, ignited the cannon’s fuse. Firing this “noon cannon” was resumed in 1990.

By 1789, the Jardin du Palais Royal was the liveliest place in Paris. People came here to get the latest news and discuss political rumors. It was a place of speeches, discussions, drinking and gaming.

On July 12th, 1789, Camille Desmoulins, a young lawyer, jumped on a table inside the Café de Foy and broke the news that Jacques Necker, the popular Minister of State, had been forced to resign. Desmoulins called out, "Aux armes, citoyens!" (To arms, citizens!). Two days later, the Bastille was taken, and the French Revolution was underway.

Subsequently the Palais Royal and its garden became property of the State. Today the Ministry of Culture has offices here, and the Comédie-Française theatre still produces the plays of Molière and Racine. The more intimate Théâtre du Palais Royal is also housed in this complex.

The garden retains its colonnaded arcades. The historic mosaics remain, fronting shops, galleries, restaurants and cafés, although the restaurant Le Grand Véfour is the only remaining establishment from the garden's pre-Revolutionary days. The garden, devoid of motorized traffic, offers a pleasant respite from the city’s clamor. Grassy lawns, rows of chestnut trees, sculptures, flowers and a fountain delight modern visitors, who can rest in peace on the shaded benches. A further enticement is that dogs are banned.

The paved courtyard of the Court of Honor is now home to a major work of modern sculpture, a set of 260 striped black and white columns of unequal height. The work of artist Daniel Buren, the columns were installed here among much controversy in 1986 (the State even tried to rescind its contract with the designer). The Orleans gallery, which separates the courtyard from the gardens, is where Belgian artist Paul Bury created sunken fountains and his sculpture of large reflective metal spheres. Chacun à son goût.

Gardens 7:00a-11:00p June-July-August; until 8:30p other months.
Métro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Friday, August 6, 2010

Café Le Zimmer

The history of this brasserie is closely tied to the Théâtre du Châtelet, since there was a door leading directly from the theatre’s lobby into the restaurant. The name comes from the surname of an Alsatian family, the Zimmers, who left Alsace and moved to Paris in order to remain French (France had lost Alsace to arch-rival Germany in 1871). Their brasserie, when it opened, occupied four floors of the building and was elaborately decorated, in keeping with the lavishness of the Théâtre du Châtelet.

The establishment was immediately popular and trendy. Its clientele was directly linked to the two theatres that flank the Place du Châtelet: Sarah Bernhardt, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, Claude Debussy, Edmond Rostand, Igor Stravinsky, Émile Zola, Marcel Proust, Serge de Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinski, Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Verne. During WWII, French resistance fighters held meetings in the basement.

In the year 2000 Paris-based world renowned decorator Jacques Garcia was hired to restore the Beaux-Arts spirit of the interiors, returning Café Le Zimmer to its former glory as a place to see and be seen.

Café Le Zimmer
1, place du Châtelet
Open 7 days, 8:00a-1:30a; terrace seats 30, capacity 150 inside
tel.: 01 42 36 74 03

Métro: Châtelet

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Salle Pleyel Concert Hall

The Pleyel piano manufacturer had long had an intimate concert hall in Paris at rue Rochechouart (see etching above), where 19th century notables such as Chopin played. However, the piano company established a greater prominence by building a much larger new concert hall entirely devoted to concert music. This 3,000 seat auditorium, not far from the place de l’Étoile on Rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré, was constructed in Art Deco style (contemporary for the period). Salle Pleyel opened in 1927 with a monumental orchestral concert of music by Wagner, de Falla, Stravinsky, Franck, Dukas, Debussy and Ravel.
A fire ravaged the hall less than nine months after its opening. Unfortunately, the acoustics suffered from the rather slap-dash renovations that were undertaken (the economic crisis of 1929 resulted in extremely modest funds available for repairs). The branch of the maison Pleyel that managed the building never recovered from the financial shock, and in 1935 the hall, reduced to 2,400 seats, became the property of the Crédit Lyonnais bank that originally granted the loan.
Salle Pleyel became one of the most celebrated concert halls in Paris. It was here that Stravinsky directed Agon (1957) and Threni (1958), and where Otto Klemperer gave his celebrated interpretations of Mahler’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroica. The Orchestre de Paris took up residence and gained an international audience under Daniel Barenboïm. Over the decades many of Europe’s finest orchestras graced its stage, as well as legends from the world of jazz, such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, and world musicians, including Ravi Shankar. In fact, the Salle Pleyel became known as the “Carnegie Hall” of Paris.
In 1998, following financial difficulties by Crédit Lyonnais, the Salle Pleyel was put up for sale. Its new proprietor, M. Hubert Martigny, awarded the artistic direction of the hall to Carla-Maria Tarditi, until it closed in 2002 for renovation work costing €30 million.

The work completed in 2006 restored the simplicity and purity that characterized the original Art Deco aesthetic. The renovations of the façade, hall and foyer reconfigured the spaces to allot more room to the public and performers. Great effort was made to improve the hall’s acoustics, as well. There was a further reduction in the number of seats, presently 1,913 compared to 3,000 in 1927, and a choir of 160 voices can be accommodated at the back of the stage.

The inaugural concert in the refurbished Salle Pleyel took place on September 13, 2006, with a performance of the appropriately-named “Resurrection Symphony” of Gustav Mahler.
A restaurant, Café Salle Pleyel, is on the premises (lunch M-F, dinner on concert evenings).
Salle Pleyel
252 rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré
Métro: Ternes

Friday, April 30, 2010

PARIS: Hôtel de Beauvais

At number 68, rue François Miron, is the Hôtel de Beauvais, originally the home of Catherine Bellier, known as “One-Eyed Kate,” the lady-in-waiting who in 1654, at age 40, deflowered the 16-year-old future King Louis XIV - at the request of his mother! Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, feared that her son might be frigid like his father, so she asked her principal servant, Catherine, to do the deed. Success! Madame Bellier was rewarded with a fortune, mostly to appease her spouse, Pierre Beauvais, who was outraged when he found out about the arrangement. She and her merchant husband were given a baronetcy, and thus made nobles. They purchased a city lot and built a magnificent edifice, where the 7-year-old Mozart later stayed with his father and sister in 1762, when the house was home to the Bavarian ambassador. It is worth seeking out the courtyard, which is even more impressive than the street façade. You may view the courtyard but not enter the building, which is occupied by administrative offices on the Court of Appeals. The courtyard photo above attests to the luxe digs enjoyed by the young Mozart.

PARIS: St-Gervais (le Marais)

Église St-Gervais-et-St-Protais
During the reign of the Carolingians (Charlemagne in the 800s), Paris began to be built up on the right bank, notably the Port du Grève, where todays’ City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) stands, and the Église St-Gervais-et-St-Protais, an unusual church with a seventeenth century neo-classical façade (the first of this style in Paris) tacked onto an earlier Gothic church. Its origins date back
to the fifth century, making it one of the oldest churches in Paris, dedicated to the martyred twin brothers St-Gervais & St-Protais, the patron saints of Milan.
During the Middle Ages this church was the seat of the powerful brotherhood of wine merchants, and
residents of the neighborhood would sign contracts and settle debts under the centuries old elm tree in the square in front of the church, resulting in the moniker “Crossroads of the Elm.” An oath made “under the elm” was considered inviolable. That tree was pulled down during the French Revolution, and the one that replaced it was not planted until 1912.

g in 1653, the Couperin dynasty of musicians, most notably Louis and François, was employed by St-Gervais for nearly two centuries. The historic organ they played still exists, including the original 18th-century keyboards (on five manuals). The home of the Couperins still stands next to the church, and there is a plaque noting it.

In more recent times, a WW I German bomb smashed through the roof during Good Friday services in 1918, killing fifty and wounding hundreds. However, the small atmospheric square behind the church was undisturbed, and on a tiny lane leading off it is a French memorial devoted to the Jews tortured and
killed by the Nazis – Le Musée du Martyr Juif Inconnu (the Museum of the Unknown Jewish Martyr), housed in a small building at 17, rue Geoffroy l'Asnier. An eternal light burns, and there is a photographic history of the systematic Nazi execution of the Jews.

Since 1975, the church has been home to the brothers and nuns of the monastic order, the Communion de Jérusalem (an Ascetic order, which accounts for the simple, backless benches that serve as seating) , which celebrates mass daily at 7 a.m. 12:30 and 6 p.m., and every Sunday at 11 a.m.

An aside: St-Gervais is the church in which the Chiracs worshiped, and during those times it was so spruced up and clean that you could eat off the floor. Now that Sarkozy is in power, we’ll have to see how well that happy state of affairs continues. Frankly, I’d be happy if Sarkozy, after one of his all-night benders, would atone at the great church of St-Eustache, which is in appalling condition, full of water leaks, mold – and in a state of general decrepitude. The city of Paris should be ashamed of such neglect.

The beautiful façade of the Couperin organ of St-Gervais.