Paris is putting on The Ritz again – after its most celebrated hotel re-opened Monday.
Owned today by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi was Diana’s boyfriend and died in the same car crash that killed the princess, the Ritz has been a Paris landmark since opening on Place Vendome in 1898. Among its celebrity clientele, The Ritz has counted icons as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, designer Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Madonna.
Author Ernest Hemingway encamped there often, and his continual residence earned the hotel’s back bar its name. The genesis of what he referred to as “my Paris book” owes its origins to the depths of the hotel’s cellars. According to biographer A.E. Hotchner, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s classic on Paris in the 1920s, derived from notebooks found in a steamer trunk the author had forgotten he’d left with hotel porters, 25 years earlier, kept safe by them throughout the war.
“In 1956, Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris with Charles Ritz… when Charley asked if Ernest was aware that a trunk of his was in the basement storage room, left there in 1930. Ernest did not remember storing the trunk but he did recall that in the 1920s Louis Vuitton had made a special trunk for him,” Hotchner wrote.
“Ernest had wondered what had become of it. Charley had the trunk brought up to his office, and after lunch Ernest opened it. It was filled with a ragtag collection of clothes, menus, receipts, memos, hunting and fishing paraphernalia, skiing equipment, racing forms, correspondence and, on the bottom, something that elicited a joyful reaction from Ernest: ‘The notebooks! So that s where they were! Enfin! [Finally!”]’ ”
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Closed since 2012 for its first-ever top-to-bottom – and still partially ongoing – renovation, the reopened hotel will house 142 modernized rooms and suites with state-of-the-art technology, compared to its previously non-air conditioned 159.
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Other changes include a larger ballroom and a summer garden restaurant under a movable glass canopy. Classic Ritz fixtures such as the hotel’s Belle Epoque hallway and afternoon teas will return to service with a fresh touch of paint.
Initially scheduled to re-open in 2014 and then again in March 2016, the hotel was damaged by a rooftop fire in January. The initial cost of the renovations was estimated at $150 million, though construction delays are thought to have risen that figure by over one-third.