The Francophile Charles Dickens would still recognise the Golden Triangle of Paris. Dickens on France edited by John Edmondson in 2007, “Dickens first saw Paris in July 1844, when he and his family were travelling through France on their way to Italy. He was instantly enthralled: ‘I cannot tell you what an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world. I was not prepare for, and really could not have believed in, its perfectly distinct and separate character.’ This first, fleeting visit marked the beginning of a friendship with the city that would last for the rest of his life.”
To quote Joseph Roth in The White Cities: Reports from France 1925 to 1939, “Over the rooftops of Paris there is a smiling baby colossus of rude health.” A baguette’s throw from Champs-Élysées and a croissant’s toss from l’Arc de Triomphe lies Hôtel George Washington, one of two independent boutique Parisian hotels (the other is Hôtel Chateaubriand) owned by second generation hoteliers and siblings Romain Rio and Méryll Collette. Assistant General Manager, Camay Tan, explains, “The Rio family are personally involved in both the decoration and day to day operations. It’s a unique ‘guest home’. All 20 guest rooms are individually decorated: every single detail was created and specially made. Hôtel George Washington is both classical French and contemporary.”
A love of interior design is clear from the custard colour and navy trimmed reception hall to the 27 meter high seascape mural painted on gold leaf seen from the elevator behind a glass panel to the Marmara marbled bathroom filled with The Ritual of Ayurveda products. “There’s a focus on really good materials,” says Camay. There’s also a focus on individuality: domed objets d’art; Grecian urns; sculpted shirt collars; Indian feathers. In the duck egg blue reception rear reception area opening onto an intimate courtyard are bookshelves with hours of distraction. Titles include ‘American Fashion’, ‘La Lumière de Londres, ‘Putman Style’, ‘Le Style Hitchcock’. Joseph Roth springs to mind again: “… it’s so well appointed that it almost corresponds to my notion of a seventh heaven.”
In Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Camel’s Back character Perry exclaims, “Take me upstairs. If that cork sees my heart it’ll fall out from pure mortification.” Channelling your inner Perry, close your eyes and dream of the ideal Parisian hotel bedroom. And open your eyes in the fourth floor bedroom of Hôtel George Washington. As you gaze through the pair of French doors clasping Juliet balconies and a trombonist serenades you from the street below (no, not artistic licence, this is Paris), it’s clear some dreams come true. There’s an elephant in the room. Or at least one over the bed. And a herd in the Ralph Lauren wallpaper. “It’s so unique, that’s one of my favourite bedrooms,” Camay confides. “Our bedrooms are very large for Paris. They all have double beds with a bath and rain shower in the en suite bathrooms.”
“We are in the business area of the Golden Triangle of Paris,” she confirms, that iconic 8th Arrondisement. “Do you know how the Arrondisements are numbered? They are ordered like an escargot, the numbers swirling around in decreasing concentric circles. We kept the façade of Hôtel George Washington and refurbished everything else behind. At Hôtel Chateaubriand we were able to keep the original form inside. Hôtel George Washington is a Haussmann townhouse with a ‘noble’ second floor which has a balcony. Our service is very personal – our team have been with us a long time. Our clients are a very good mix of leisure and business travellers.”
The Rios also own Le Petit George a few doors up on Rue Washington. Quirky neon lettering on the awning reads “Sincère et Malicieux”. Has Tracey Emin been en ville? We have an aperitif: “Champagne is an integral part of French culture!” Camay relates, “Monsieur Rio’s inspiration for this restaurant was the same expression of luxury as the hotels, from opulent linen tablecloths to silver cutlery, bringing back attention to detail. We wanted to change part of French dining culture and bridge the gap between bistro and gastronomy: ‘bistronomy’. It’s a unique dining experience.” The all-female run establishment is a hit with lawyers and bankers midweek and well informed travellers at the weekend. “We attract a really good lunch crowd and are busy Monday to Friday. Lisa l’des Forges is Chef and Melisande Malle is Sommelier and Manager.
The décor is an essay in understated elegance in a language only the French can compose. A marble and brass bar stretches along one party wall and the kitchen to the rear is only visible through a small serving hatch. There are no pictures on the walls: we are the living art in this space. “There’s a Chef’s Table in the basement for 10 people,” leads Camay. Joseph Roth once more, “Paradise is downstairs, in a basement. But it’s so well appointed that it almost corresponds to my notion of a seventh heaven.”
There’s plenty for seafood lovers on this evening’s menu. Anchovies for hors d’oeuvre (Anchois de Cantabria); caviar for entrée (St Jacques de Bretagne à cru, purée de choux fleurs, caviar de hareng fumé); and octopus for plat (Poulpe grille, joue de porcelet, haricots); accompanied by an aromatic Domaine de l’Enclos 2018 Chablis by Romain et Damien Bouchard. “We have a passion for natural wine produced without sulphite,” Melisande shares. “We’ve all the classics and also like to educate with new wines. It’s a very elaborate wine list!” No food fatigue here: “Lisa changes the menu three times a week,” confirms Camay. “They are dancing in the streets of Paris,” reported Joseph Roth. That’ll be us; we’re in rude health.
Charles Dickens witnessed at first hand the dramatic transformation of Paris. Dickens on France edited by John Edmondson 2007, “It was transformed, under the aegis of Napoléon III, by Georges Haussmann, Préfet de la Seine from 1853 to 1870. Haussmann had many of the old streets in central Paris demolished to make way for a system of long elegant boulevards that brought structural unity to the city… Dickens witnessed the progress of this Haussmannisation at first hand. He told W H Wills in a letter of October 1862 that a group of theatres on the Boulevard du Temple ‘that used to be so characteristic’ had been demolished ‘and preparations for some amazing new streets are in rapid progress.’”