Hôtel Le A is just like its name: diminutive and discreet. Located in an unremarkable street in the eighth arrondissement of Paris, it’s round the corner from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées. Our first impression is of a downtown SoHo gallery of the Seventies: definitely art scene, and more Right Bank sophistication than Left Bank boho. We half expect to find Leo Castelli in a corner, arguing over prices with Andy Warhol.
This is all hardly surprising, considering Le A is a collaboration between architect/interior designer Fréderic Mechiche, and Fabrice Hybert, artist, both contemporaries of Andy and Leo – and, thanks to their vintage, well versed in the nuances of classic Seventies chic. Mechiche is a devotee of ‘minimalism lite’. Hybert’s work is a very French intellectual hybrid of Claes Oldenburg and Cy Twombly, coloured by Morris Lewis. And it works.
The ground floor of this all-white boutique hotel opens into a glassed-over central courtyard, which breaks the room into two natural areas that contrast beautifully. Dark hardwood floors, art-gallery white walls and chocolate velvet curtains are set off by a flood of natural light. It’s an interesting space that Mechiche has used just so, for a discreet reception, cosy library, and intimate café bar. Three imposing works by Hybert enhance the area; unsurprisingly, they fit the space and the mood perfectly. A giant, loosely hung tapestry oversees the café bar, and two paintings are mounted flush into the walls of the library.
Another piece of Hybert’s is the scribblings on a wall by the lifts; very Left Bank (and not to be encouraged at home). The library, screened from the simple reception area, is what you’d expect of the backroom of a world-class art dealer. We could spend hours stretched out on the dark-brown velvet sofas researching lesser-known works of obscure artists, if we had more than a night in Paris. Instead, we only have time to drop our bags off. We have plans to eat, drink and merry-make the best we can in just one night in the French capital.
To reach the rooms, you brave a lift which is like stepping inside a Dan Flavin installation. A tiny white cubicle in white Perspex, it changes colour to indicate different floors. We get off at Red. Like all Parisian hotels with these kinds of dimensions, the hotel makes the most of limited space. Mechiche wastes as little as possible on corridors, behind-the-scenes functions and cupboards; so don’t expect dinner, or pack too much. Once this Mr Smith’s dusky maiden has emptied her suitcase into the one wardrobe I could forget unpacking my bag. The junior suite only manages one suitcase before everything starts to explode into the carefully balanced calm that has been so diligently created.
Each room is unique, with two works by Hybert; one declares the room’s name; the other elaborates on the theme. We are in ‘Desert d’Eau’ (Ocean Desert), elegant and calming. We’re curious as to how the room opposite, ‘Oups’, had been brought to life. Next time. The same colour palette is used throughout: white walls and loosely covered furniture; chrome; dark-chocolate wood veneers. Details echo Hybert’s painting (in the case of our room,a striped green carpet). Double beds are just right, with sheets of the highest quality, and the whole hotel is lit perfectly.
Technology is a forte; my laptop instantly detects the wireless broadband signal, and the hi-tech CD player and TV are impressive. Minimalist sensibilities extend to the in-room information, though, and a glance at the room service menu reveals endless variations on the cheese sandwich. We grab a bite to eat, before venturing out for our date at the Crazy Horse.
A Parisian classic of cabaret, and nothing like the Moulin Rouge, the Crazy Horse is a small red-plush basement theatre that seats 150 – mostly tourists, but don’t let that put you off. It’s certainly a little crazy, though there are no horses; you are greeted at the door by a Canadian mountie, sans cheval. The curtains open and we’re greeted by 20 identical ladies. It is reminiscent of that Robert Palmer video – they’re naked but for flamboyant trimmings, performing (OK, miming) favourite showbiz melodies. Various kitsch city-scene sketches later, interspersed with comic displays, Mrs Smith admits she loves it.
So entertained are we, we don’t roll in again until 03h. (Incidentally, reception can’t change your sterling into euros, so when we eventually find our way back, we have only Bank of England vouchers on us and have to borrow €20 from another guest. Sadly, we never find him again to pay him back. Was he on the green floor? Or was it yellow, next to the room called… Hmmm: no wonder all the room numbers are written on Post-it Notes under the little gems outside the doors. Staff confess they’ve resorted to this; it’s unlikely that Hybert knows.)
Le A is not really a hotel. Its creators didn’t design a guesthouse; they concocted a work of art with
bedrooms and a great lounge bar attached. A great base if you want to be on the Right Bank and near the shopping, it’s romantic, personal and an oasis of calm. It’s for grown-ups who love art and know enough about it to appreciate the games designers play. Then again, even if you don’t know who Warhol, Castelli, Flavin, Oldenburg, Twombly and Lewis are, it doesn’t matter – just look them up in the library when you stay. Add a tour of a few of the amazing galleries and museums in this city, and Le A will have you leaving town an expert in art, with a capital A.