I believe I suffer from a disorder of the rarest sort. It’s a sound in my head. An auditory hallucination which has the particularity of striking my otherwise peaceful mind whenever I walk past 15, Place Vendôme on my lunch breaks.
Sweaty palms, a precipitated heartbeat and the sound of a crescendo drum roll, the kind you’ll hear at the circus before the curtains open. Those are my symptoms. The diagnosis, sudden onset of anticipatory excitement, the cure… just open the Ritz already. Please.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the Ritz is set to return after its excruciating four year long hiatus. Four years. That’s a very long wait. No doubt, it was worth it, but that does little to sooth my frayed nerves at the moment. So instead of focusing on the ever approaching opening date of this legend, I’ve prepared something a little interesting to tide Ritz aficionados and myself over. A look into the hotel’s rich past.
An establishment with such a profound influence on the world’s cultural and political landscape is filled with countless stories, and listed below, are some of the tastiest little bits of trivia surrounding the legend we’ve been able to find. So without further ado, here are 8 amazing things that have happened at the Ritz. Who knows, it might come in useful next time you’re seated at the Hemingway Bar.
1. It’s had an influence on Grammar.
Ever been called ritzy? You can thank the hotel for that. The Ritz was considered such a standard of lavishness and opulence that it’s name made it into the English language as an adjective for “expensively stylish”, with the hotel’s re-opening just around the corner, we wouldn’t be surprised if the word makes a comeback.
2. The reason why there is a Hemingway Bar is…
The American novelist, Ernest Hemmingway , was practically synonymous with the Ritz hotel during his lifetime and it seems only fitting that it now bears his name. But it takes more than being a regular at a bar to have it bear your name for the rest of time… at least at the Ritz. Such a legacy demands bravado the likes of which has never been seen before,and in the case of Hemingway, it took liberating the hotel from Nazi occupation with only a jeep and motley crew of soldiers under his command.
In 1944, when it was all too clear that the Allies would retake Paris, Hemingway,- backed by a crew of military stragglers he affectionately called his “irregulars”- slipped out of his war correspondent skin and into that of an alcohol fueled renegade military commando set on liberating his beloved hotel from its oppressors. Armed with rifles, grenades and 67 bottles of Champagne (reported numbers vary) Hemingway succeeded in his endeavor, and walked straight into the bar to celebrate with a glass of brandy. And hence the name…
3. It was the most technologically advanced hotel of the 20th century.
The Ritz was the first hotel in Paris to have en suite bathrooms, telephones and electricity in every room. At the time, it was a marvel of technology. But not everyone was a fan of change, playwright Oscar Wilde, absolutely hated it. His opinion on the electric lighting and in room sinks is quite telling: “ A harsh and ugly light, enough to ruin your eyes, and not a candle or a lamp for bedside reading. And who wants an immovable washing basin in one’s room? I do not. Hide the thing. I prefer to ring for water when I need it”… we’re lucky nobody listened.
4. It was Chanel’s Number 1.
Spend any amount of time at the Ritz, and the idea of leaving becomes a heart wrenching prospect. Why would you ever want to? Coco Chanel asked herself that question, came to the logical conclusion, and spent the last 37 years of her life in one of the hotel’s most lavish suites which is now available for guests to book. For the spa lovers among you, the world’s first Chanel Spa will be found inside the swanky interiors of the hotel when it opens and will offer the brand’s full range of care products.
5. It holds hidden treasures…
If you thought Chanel had left enough of her mark on the Ritz, well… think again. When the hotel closed for renovations in 2012 an inventory of all existing items was made and even though everything checked out nicely, one painting in Chanel’s suite puzzled everyone. It was never on record for being bought and no one knew quite how it got there, until the hotel’s Art Advisor took one look and recognized it as a 17th century painting from French Master Charles Le Brun. The Painting is worth an estimated 500,000 GBP and owner Mohamed Al Fayed, stating that it’s quality made it worthy of a museum collection, auctioned it off at Christie’s in New York.
6. It’s the most Proustian hotel out there.
Marcel Proust was another of the literary luminaries to stay at the hotel. He had struck a strong friendship with the Maitre D’, Olivier and it’s generally accepted the novelist based one of the characters from his magnum opus “in search for lost time” on the hotelier. The lavish dinner parties depicted in the novel are also inspired by the Ritz. Legend has it that in his last days, Proust only lived on coffee and milk, however, on his death bed, all he wanted was an ice cold beer from the Ritz which, unfortunately, failed to arrive on time.
7. Nazi Occupation
During the Nazi occupation, The Ritz was one of the few hotels allowed to remain open, in account of the owner’s Swiss nationality which marked him as neutral. The other theory, is that the Nazi’s were in awe of the renowned institution and were loathe to see it closed. They even observed house rules such as checking in all their firearms in a gun repository in the Vendôme entrance. In an arrangement with then Manager Charles Ritz, the Nazis agreed to occupy the hotel’s Vendôme side and leave the Rue Cambon side to the civilians already staying at the hotel.
8. It serves one of the most expensive drinks in the world.
One of the most expensive drinks in the world is served (albeit not often) at the Ritz. Born from the creativity of Bartender Colin Field and an 1850’s bottle of Cognac hidden from the Nazi’s during the occupation, the Ritz Sidecar will set you back approximately 1000 EUR.
9. The Customer is always right
César Ritz was the founder of the hotel. Coming from a peasant family in Switzerland, none would have guessed his stratospheric rise to power and influence. His approach to service was unique and born from the arduous task of climbing the ranks from waiter, to Manager of the Savoy, until he eventually achieved his dream of opening his own hotel.Though it is now heard across all walks of the service industry, he was the first to coin the phrase : “The customer is always right”.