Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog at www.eyepreferparis.com.
Last month I had a special invitation to take a tour and have lunch at Hotel Fouquet’s Barriere on the Champs Elysees. Celine Lavail-Georgin, the director of marketing and communications, was gracious enough to give me a tour explaining in full detail about the history of the original café and the opening of the hotel, in addition to the latest events.
Louis Foquet opened Fouquet’s Café in 1899, and it first welcomed coach drivers on their way to the Longchamp racetrack. In 1905, when Alberto Santos-Dumont landed his small plane on the Champs Elysees, he celebrated his big accomplishment at the café, and it became a meeting place for French aviators. While I was waiting in the lobby for Celine, I noticed a long wall with photos of movie stars, celebrities, and directors, and she told me Fouquet’s has long been associated with the movie industry. In the 1920s and 30s, the first movie theaters with talking films in Paris were opened on the Champs Elysees, and the café was a watering hole for people in film, including Marlene Dietrich and Jean Gabin. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the cafe was the headquarters of the Nouvelle Vague film movement with actors and directors, such as Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Alain Delon and Jeanne Moreau frequently visiting.
In the early 1990s, many of the Champs Elysees retail storefronts were empty because of the soft real estate market, and some were put up for sale. Fouquet’s Café was about to be sold to a large corporation and replaced with an office tower. Diane Barriere, whose family owned a chain of hotels and casinos in France (none in Paris), had fond childhood memories of visiting the café for lunch with her father and was distraught at the idea it would be demolished. Dianne made saving the café her personal pet project, and the family bought it in 1998. The family had always wanted a location in Paris, so Dianne fulfilled the family vision by proposing a hotel to be built next to the cafe. Five buildings were purchased surrounding the café, but unfortunately Diane Barriere passed away before her dream was realized. Her husband Dominique Desseigne continued with the fulfillment of Diane’s vision, and the hotel opened in 2006. In 2009 it attained the special status of five-stars and is the only privately held five-star hotel owned by a French family.
The café continues its historical association with the film industry by annually hosting the glamorous Cesar Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars. Filled with memories of movie stars and luminaries visiting the hotel, we sat for lunch on the glass-enclosed terrace. In the main dining room were gold plaques inscribed with the names of various celebrities, such as Orson Welles and Edith Piaf, who had their own table reserved for them.
Celine pointed out the signature dishes on the menu by head chef Jean-Yves Leuranger, and I indulged with a starter of lobster filled ravioli, followed by a lobster Thermidor and finished with a rich, classic mille-feuille with delicate pastry cream. Celine shared with me about the success of the old-fashioned ice cream truck that was set up last summer in front of the café.
Hotel Fouquets Barriere has 81 rooms and 33 suites decorated by celebrated interior designer Jacques Garcia, with the smallest room measuring a very generous 400 square feet. The hotel is the only one in Paris to offer personal butler service in every room category.
There are five restaurants: Fouquet’s, Fouquet’s Café, La Petite Maison de Nicole, Galerie Joy and Le Diane, which has been awarded one Michelin star. The property's three bars include Le Lucien, L’Escadrille and Le Bar Marta. The Shiseido spa on the lower level has an almost Olympic sized pool with a whirlpool and eight treatment rooms for massages and facials.
Fouquet’s Barriere Hotel
46 Ave. George V, 75008