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Paris Cocktail Bar 228 at Le Meurice – Classic Drinks, Elegant Surroundings

Impeccable service in grand hotel on Rue de Rivoli steps from the Louvre

Photo: Le Meurice

PARIS – Rue de Rivoli can be a chaotic yet thrilling place at times. The world’s busiest museum, the Louvre, stretches along part of this iconic boulevard. One of the city’s most popular gardens, the Tuileries, can be found just a few steps away. Walk a little further and you’ll find yourself on the Right Bank of the Seine River not far from two of Paris’ best-known museums for impressionist and post-impressionist art, Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, the latter famous for its large, curved rooms housing Claude Monet’s mesmerizing Water Lily murals.

Photo: Le Meurice

Because of such world-renowned attractions, many parts of Rue de Rivoli can be filled with throngs of tourists jostling for space on the sidewalks wedged beneath the arched passageways running along one side of this grand boulevard. But amidst the touristy shops and compact cafés, near the intersection of Rue de Castiglione, a charming street that leads to Place Vendome and the Palais Garnier, Paris’ iconic opera house, you’ll find a luxurious oasis of calm at 228 Rue de Rivoli, the home of Le Meurice, a grand, five-star hotel famous for its impeccable service and elegant surroundings.

Once inside, walk through the formal entryway into the hotel’s opulent café. From there, turn left and you’ll soon find yourself inside one of the quietest, coziest hotel bars in Paris. A room within a room, Bar 228 is a traditionalist’s cocktail bar, a place where you would take someone special in search of old-world elegance, understated charm, and comfortable, leather armchairs.

Historic hotel, ideal location

French postmaster Charles-Augustin Meurice opened Hôtel Meurice in Paris in 1815. It was his second hotel in France. Meurice’s first was an inn in the French port city of Calais in 1771. Meurice opened both hotels with the same philosophy and similar target audience—English travelers. Meurice’s goal was to make their visit to France as convenient and comfortable as possible. One of the Paris hotel’s early advertising slogans was, “For an English traveler, no hotel in Paris offers more benefits than Le Meurice.”

Photo: Le Meurice

Originally, the Hôtel Meurice was located at 223 Rue Saint-Honoré, two blocks away from Rue de Rivoli. (The old address is now home to a Paul Smith clothing store.) Then in 1835, the hotel was moved to its current, opulent location near the Tuileries Garden. This prime piece of Paris real estate soon attracted wealthy customers from England and around the world.

In the early 1900s, the hotel was expanded to its current size. The adjacent Metropole Hotel was added to Le Meurice, partly to compete with the larger, nearby Ritz Hotel, which opened in 1902. One of Le Meurice’s primary shareholders, restaurateur Arthur Millon, spared no expense redecorating and renovating the expanded Hôtel Meurice. Much of the redesign of the hotel at the time was done by renowned French architect Henri Paul Nénot.

Photo: Le Meurice

The hotel’s ideal location makes Le Meurice a truly special hotel, according to Jackie Martin, who handles public relations for the hotel owned since 1997 by The Dorchester Collection, which operates 10 luxury hotels worldwide. But there’s more to it than that, Martin explained.

“With views of the Tuileries Garden, Le Meurice has been ranked among the most elegant hotels in the world,” Martin wrote in response to a question about what makes the hotel so special. “Combining exceptional 18th-century opulence with contemporary chic, Le Meurice embodies the perfect French palace hotel. Located between Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, Le Meurice is ideally located for a range of activities, whether you’re after fine dining and shopping, or simply want to explore the city of romance and culture. Le Meurice has been opened since 1835, so it has many stories hidden within its walls and has seen countless celebrities and notable figures come and go.”

Famous guests, historic moments

The list of famous people who have stayed at Le Meurice over the past two centuries could fill an entire book. The mistress of Napoleon III, France’s first president, lived for a time in the hotel in the 1800s. Spain’s King Alfonso XIII moved into the hotel in 1931 after Spanish people voted in favor of a democratically elected leader. Other world leaders who have stayed at Le Meurice over the years include U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and kings from Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, and Italy.

During World War II, German authorities commandeered the hotel and used it as the headquarters for General Dietrich von Choltitz, the German military governor of Paris in 1944. (German spy and socialite Mata Hari was also a frequent guest at the hotel.) A Swedish diplomat famously (and successfully) pleaded with Choltitz in a suite at Le Meurice to not follow through on Adolf Hitler’s orders to destroy Paris if the Germans lost the city during the war. A 1966 movie, Is Paris Burning?, made about the incident and partly filmed in the hotel featured Orson Welles as the Swedish diplomat.

Photo: Le Meurice

As far as artists, actors, and writers who have stayed at Le Meurice, the highlights of the long list include Jay-Z, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Kristen Stewart, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Bette Midler, Plácido Domingo, Liza Minnelli, and Rudyard Kipling.

But perhaps the hotel’s best-known guest was Salvador Dalí. The surrealist painter liked the hotel so much, he often spent a month each year for three decades in the hotel’s royal suite where King Alfonso XIII stayed during his time there in the 1930s. That’s why one of Le Meurice’s restaurants now bears his name, Restaurant Le Dali. The hotel’s other restaurant is the Michelin two-star Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, named after the restaurant’s world-famous head chef. But before or after dinner, you’ll often find patrons tucked away in Bar 228.

Photo: Le Meurice

Luxurious, elegant surroundings

Part of what makes Le Meurice’s restaurants and Bar 228 stand out comes down to Philippe Starck, the French interior designer who created the hotel’s distinct, luxurious interiors in 2008. You can see Starck’s opulent attention to detail throughout the hotel—from its gold-framed interior windows, cream-colored furniture, and mixture of understated lighting and grand chandeliers.

In Bar 228, Starck’s subtle touches can be seen in his choice of a Carrera marble bar to go with the bar’s dark wood paneling and soft leather chairs. Such elegant touches also blend in well with the bar’s older murals and frescoes on the walls and ceilings, including paintings of clouds up above. Gleaming copper, brass, and stainless steel can also be found throughout the quiet bar, which feels a world away from the hectic crowds of Rue de Rivoli.

Photo: Le Meurice

That’s part of the bar’s understated charm, according to Jackie Martin. “Named Bar 228 after the hotel’s address on Rue de Rivoli, this refined yet cozy bar is renowned for its sophisticated and welcoming British-club style, with a nod to 18th-century France,” Martin wrote. “The recently updated bar counter is where you’ll find our indispensable head barman William Oliveri, who has been with the hotel since 1978. Exquisite cocktails are his specialty, and there’s a bar menu of salads, sandwiches, and other delicacies. Settle down on deep leather armchairs with a backdrop of dark wood paneling and frescoes dating back to 1907.”

Distinct, unique cocktails

Oliveri’s cocktails cover a wide range—from the traditional to the adventurous. The bar’s most popular cocktail, according to Martin, is The Meurice Millennium, a mixture of rose liqueur, Cointreau, rosé Champagne, and orange peel. Oliveri’s also famous for his traditional Bellini cocktail.

Photo: Ken Ross

There’s a long list of cocktails to choose from on Bar 228’s menu. One of the interesting drinks on the menu is a Ginger Tini, a blend of Tanqueray, fresh ginger, and Tabasco, served neat with no ice in a martini glass. You can smell the ginger right away even before you take a sip. But the drink isn’t overpowering. Its aromas are light and refreshing on the nose and reminiscent of the seaside. Tasting a Ginger Tini, the spiciness of the Tabasco lingers in the background. But it’s the hint of ginger you taste more than anything in this warm, pleasing cocktail.

If you want to veer off course and ignore the menu, Bar 228’s bartenders will be more than happy to create an original cocktail. Simply called the Classic Cocktail of The Day on the bill, my unique cocktail consisted of peach liquor, grape juice, and Bulleit Bourbon served neat with no ice in a martini glass with two raspberries. A slightly sweeter version of a classic Manhattan, this cocktail was the epitome of everything that makes Bar 228 such a timeless, Paris classic—smooth, subtle, elegant, and a pleasure to drink.

No wonder Dalí spent a month here every year for decades.

Bar 228

Open daily noon to 1 a.m.

Le Meurice

228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001

Paris

Written by Ken Ross

A professional journalist since 1993, Ken Ross writes about cocktails, wine, classical music, dance, art, skiing and anything else that pays the bills. You can read his weekly wine column, Wine Press, at Masslive.com every Monday. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter. He lives in Massachusetts.

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