Eden-ism | Prestige Hong Kong (Aug 2017)

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Zaneta cheng stays in the legendary Hotel Les Bains to get a glimpse of where the world's glitterati go to bathe in excess and what the establishment has to offer those seeking respite today


“They have condoms in the mini bar.” 

My travel partner declares this as I enter our room at Les Bains on my return from a lunch engagement in nearby Saint-Denis. Though amusing, it’s not surprising, given the hotel’s past as a watering hole for the best and brightest of many an era. The building began life 132 years ago as a restaurant and bathhouse for the bohèmes of the belle époque, frequented by the likes of Marcel Proust. It later reincarnated to become the hotbed of 1970s Parisian hedonism: Les Bains Douche, a nightclub with – as the name suggests – its own pool, that was ornamented by regulars such as Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Bowie and Grace Jones. Although Les Bains Douche closed its shutters for the last time in 2010, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Marois, whose family has owned the property at 7 Rue du Bourg L’Abbé since the 1960s, enlisted architect Vincent Bastie and architects and interior designers Tristan Auer and Denis Montel to create the latest reimagining of the fabled Parisian landmark. 

Couched in historic Le Marais in Paris’s third arrondissement, Les Bains is an imposing Haussmann-era building designed by Eugène Ewald in 1885, and has retained elements of its legacy as the pleasure dome of multiple eras. Bacchus – the Greek god of wine and intoxication – still rears his head above the entrance archway, and is embossed on everything from the bed linen to the slippers, the towels, and, yes, the condom wrappers. There are plenty more not-so-subtle reminders that pleasure is to be had throughout the property, and staff do an admirable job of leaving you to enjoy all of it by yourself. The corridor leading to the 39 guestrooms is clad with a replica of the black-and-gold carpet immortalised in a photograph of the great singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg scribbling lyrics in his bathtub. The black doors and corridor walls offer a stark contrast to the bright and airy rooms they lead to, a third of which contain hammams.

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References to the hotel’s rich history do not end here. The rooms have an unapologetically retro vibe. Grey carpeting is juxtaposed against rust-coloured banquette sofas, an homage to Warhol’s Factory in New York. Guests can warm up for a party using the Marshall speaker that is available in every room. The mini fridge is covered in a black and white check motif, an aesthetically pleasing touch that references the bathhouse tiles of the Philippe Starck-designed Les Bains Douche; and in proffering a complete liquor range it’s also pivotal in helping to unleash your inner Mick Jagger – because, of course, all you need before and after a night of revelry in Les Bains’ basement club is a bed with superior linen, some booze, good tunes … and protection. 

Should you be more high-brow than high-throttle, you can spend time reading on your room’s Haussmann balcony; we cannot forget that France’s finest thinkers once frequented this establishment, so it stands to reason that books are available in each room for the intelligentsia of our time. Or simply lounge around in the hammam bathtubs – if the personal steam rooms are not to your liking – luxuriating in the heated bathroom floors and a generous selection of Le Labo amenities. While away the rest of the day in the hotel swimming pool and resurface for a drink at the bar. It is, ultimately, a hotel you do not wish to leave.

For those who have the great fortune of living in the City of Light, or perhaps the lesser fortune of staying elsewhere, there remain a host of delights. On entering the hotel, restaurant La Salle-à-Manger creates a dramatic first impression. Crimson lacquer coats the ceiling and the sheen is such that the Lalique bar and tables and the black-and-white floor tiles are all flawlessly reflected (breakfast is served in the restaurant until 3pm and dinner until midnight). There are two courtyards that can accommodate those who wish to dine outdoors or bask in the sun with a drink. Alternatively, those wishing to imbibe in a more intimate space can sequester themselves in the “Honesty Bar”, a chinois-inspired room with stained glass windows and leather chairs. 

It would be remiss not to visit La Boutique Les Bains, which, like the rest of the hotel, is a dream to look at, an experimental gift shop that knows it’s cooler than you. The stripped-down, wood-beamed space offers exclusive Les Bains collaborations that include coffee beans from Parisian micro roaster Belleville Brûlerie, swimwear, and La Planche à Roulettes skateboards.

However, the main attraction will always be the club, with its legends of the hedonism of yore. Marois was astute enough to include a club in the new space, preserving some elements of the original, such as the voluminous Phillippe Starck-designed white and light blue speckled mosaic bathtub. Taking the stairs down to the basement, one enters the storied cave that once saw Carla Bruni partying before her Dior-donning days as First Lady, when everyone from Basquiat and Warhol to Linda Evangelista and Jack Nicholson cavorted in the steamy pulsing darkness. 

The club only opens its doors to the city’s glitterati on weekends, but if you’re there, why not take a room to conclude your night
of intemperance with appropriate sybaritic indulgence?