Refurbished in 2015 and with a wine bar added in 2016, the 5-star Hotel Regina, across the street from the Louvre, has regained its place among the luxury hotels of Paris’s 1st arrondissement. Gary Lee Kraut nods to Joan of Arc then pushes through the revolving door for a visit and a glass of wine.
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The gilt bronze equestrian statue of Joan of Arc on Place des Pyramides, across the street from the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden, is one of the most well-known and copied statues of the martyred heroine of the Hundred Years War with the English. Though glimpsed daily by thousands of tourists, few stop to contemplate the work or even to photograph it—and with good reason: they are intent are on preserving their own lives as they cross the street. Greater notice is likely given to copies of the statue in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Portland and Melbourne. Nevertheless, holding her standard high, Joan rides on here in (temporary) victory over the “invader” as a symbol of, well, whatever one group or party wants or needs her to be.
In the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), France’s young Third Republic needed her to represent a proud and unified nation marching in progress. Emmanuel Frémiet was commissioned to create the statue. No sooner was it installed on Place des Pyramides in 1874 than another invasion gathered strength: the invasion, welcome this time, of wealthy British tourists for whom the 1st arrondissement was becoming their Paris headquarters. In the decades that followed the statue’s inauguration, major new hotels opened or expanded on and around Rue de Rivoli and Rue Saint-Honoré—the Normandy, the Continental (now the Westin), the Meurice, the Ritz and others—as did shops and tea rooms and restaurants (“We speak English”).
As the prosperity and innovation of the Belle Epoque raced toward the turn of the century, a new hotel, the Hotel Regina, prepared to open on Joan’s Place des Pyramides. The Regina was under construction at the same as the Alexandre III Bridge, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, all to be ready in time for the World’s Fair of 1900.
The Regina was founded by Léonard Tauber, working with an associate named Constant Bavarez. Eventually Bavarez would take the reins, and the hotel is still majority owned by the Bavarez family, as are two other hotels developed by Tauber, the Raphael and the Majestic, both 5-stars near the Arc de Triomphe in the 16th arrondissement.)
Enter the Regina’s original art nouveau revolving door today you’ll find yourself in the lobby of old-fashion luxury with a choice of three directions: to the left to check in at the reception desk to one of 100 rooms and suites, straight ahead into the oak-paneled English bar for a cocktail or whiskey or to the right to the new wine bar.
The Hotel Regina was refurbished in 2015 without losing any of its character circa 1900, gaining a fifth star in the process. Its room style is clear and direct in its sense of well-being, with grey, beige and off-white walls and fabrics offset with the occasional touch of red. Excellent sound-proofing allows rooms facing the street to shut out the traffic on Rue de Rivoli.
Some furnishings, notably desks, from the opening years of the hotel are still present. Several rooms might even fulfill a guest’s fantasy of living luxuriously in Paris circa 1900, both for the décor and, in the case of exceptional corner rooms, the view to the Tuileries Garden and beyond it Eiffel’s Tower, a remnant of the World’s Fair of 1889.
Having refurbished its rooms and repolished its reputation, Regina opened a new wine bar this year. The bar is a sleek, boldly lit little white box with gold trim, high saucer stools and a corner view toward the garden and the tower.
It’s a sign of the times that the old English bar is called le Bar Anglais and the new French wine bar is named Wine & Friends.
Wine & Friends is the domain of sommelier and barman Antoine Henon, who counsels and pours with the cool and gracious demeanor of a man who is trying to please but not entertain or impress. Henon supplies the wine; you supply the friends.
With friends I turned right at the revolving door to have a drink—actually four, but I’m not one to try to impress with beverage consumption. They were small glasses, several tastes to get acquainted with the pleasantly balanced Dourthe wines while getting a feel for the place.
Dourthe is a company that owns ten Bordeaux vineyards (among them Saint-Estèphe, Haut Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan, Graves) including several grand crus. Producing grower and merchant wines, it is part of the Thiénot Group, whose home soil is in the Champagne region. Other regions are also selectively represented at Wine & Friends.
I’m not a fan of the presence of branding stamped into the décor of luxury bars as found here, but many now have them—an indiscretion that is also a sign of the times. Nevertheless, Wine & Friends (& Dourthe) offers a nice variety of wine styles.
Considering the location between the Louvre and Rue Saint-Honoré, the sense of privilege of leaving hurried Rue de Rivoli and the elegant presence of Antoine Henon, a decent bottle of wine is rather moderately priced at 29-55€, a glass at 9-15€, with several more prestigious wines available by the glass or bottle.
A glass or a shared bottle can be accompanied by a fine plate of cheese and charcuterie, as one would expect in a Paris wine bar. Foie gras and sourdough toast (tartines) topped with smoked salmon or Bayonne ham or chicken are also available.
The atmosphere depends on the aforementioned friends as well as the light, which together lend themselves to cheery aperitif, showy chicness, rising romance in fading light or post-dinner dialogue. Wine & Friends is open daily from 5pm to midnight.
The cocktail-drinker among a group of wine friends needn’t go his or her separate way since one can also get a cocktail served here from the hotel’s Bar Anglais. That bar, with its oak paneling and red velvet armchairs and sofas, is the domain of Marc Desange, who has been shaking and stirring cocktails and pouring whiskey here since last year.
Previously he worked at the Regina’s sister hotel the Raphael, another worthy stop on the Paris hotel bar trail.
2 place des Pyramides
Tel. 01 42 60 35 58
© 2016 Gary Lee Kraut