A LITERARY HOTEL
There are plenty of hotels with genuine literary associations—New York’s Algonquin, with its New Yorker Round Table history, and Chelsea, sometime home to the likes of Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas and Sid Vicious, come to mind, along with the Cadogan in London, poor thing (see Betjeman’s immortal lines here)—almost always tied in somehow with alcohol and other intoxicants ranging from that “weak hock and seltzer” at the Cadogan to the Algonquin’s martinis and the Chelsea’s you-name-it. And there are plenty that use books as decor, either as pure embellishment or as a (cheap) way of setting a certain elevated tone.
Books as decor
Paris seems to have more than its share of such places, old and new. On a recent trip my wife and I did not stay, for instance, at l’Hôtel, like the Cadogan associated with Oscar Wilde, or at any of the places hung with gonfalons proclaiming that “Hemingway slept here.” We stayed at the Pavillon des Lettres, which opened in 2010 on a small street off the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, not far from the Elysée Palace. The book-as-décor concept is taken to a new level here in what could seem at first to be a somewhat forced way: there are 26 rooms, one for each letter of the alphabet, and each named after a writer. Starting at the top of the six-story—er, six-floor—hotel, the rooms run from Andersen through Baudelaire, Calderón, Diderot (our room), Eschyle (Aeschylus), Flaubert, Goethe, Hugo, Ibsen, James, Kafka, La Fontaine, Musset, Nerval, Ovid, Proust, Queiroz, Rousseau, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Urfé, Voltaire, Woolf, Xenophon, Yeats and Zola.
But you know what? It works. This is because the design is charming and relaxing and stylish. Texts are to be seen in public areas (embossed on the bar-lounge’s wall covering) and in the rooms: the headboard in Diderot displayed a quotation from Les Bijoux Indiscrets, and there was a paperback copy of the book in the room in case we wanted to read more (we didn’t—it sounds like a real dog). It is tempting to say that the hotel could just as easily have been called the Pavillon des Animaux (with rooms named Abeille, Babouin, Civette, Dogue…), but it is almost unimaginable that this could have been realized with anything but what is known nowadays as irony—or just plain kitsch. Writers and their texts are more conducive to good taste and tranquility.
In bed with Diderot
Diderot, on the fifth floor, was sunny, quiet and comfortable, in calming grays and taupes; the bathtub was deep and conducive to long soaks (this is not true of all the rooms, some of which, in the true Parisian tradition of “hôtels de charme,” are quite small). The wifi signal was strong and steady, and if we’d been traveling ultra-light they’d have lent us an iPad for the duration of our stay. Breakfast was excellent—or at least the bread, croissants and so forth were: we didn’t try any of the cooked dishes. The jam, from a company called Alain Milliat, was particularly good. Like the décor, it was understated and elegant.
Okay, ultimately the literary focus is a gimmick. But it is a fun gimmick, and we got a kick out of asking for our key—“Diderot, s’il vous plaît”—every time we returned from an excursion.
Pavillon des Lettres, 12 rue des Saussaies, 75008 Paris; +33 (0) 1 49 24 2626. Depending on the time of year, double rooms start at about $335.