The Toast of Paris
For the Bar du Plaza Athénée, Patrick Jouin concocted a cocktail of the classic and the futuristic
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
In November 2000, a fire destroyed the bar at the legendary Paris hotel Plaza Athénée. "It was unlucky for them but lucky for me," asserts designer Patrick Jouin. At the time, Jouin, a former associate of Philippe Starck had just finished outfitting Michelin star-studded chef Alain Ducasse's new restaurant at the Plaza Athénée. In no time at all, the hotel director called in Jouin to redo the bar, with the mission of attracting a new Parisian and celebrity clientele.
Since the Bar du Plaza Athénée reopened last year, Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lenny Kravitz, et al., have been popping by to check out the new design, making 25 Avenue Montaigne the hippest port of call in town. Still, Jouin points out, "It was necessary that the hotel regulars not feel out of place. The English and Americans always want a cocktail bar. The French prefer more cozy spots." He incorporated all these moods, rather like a DJ putting together a set. "I mixed different ambiences," he says.
They run the gamut from the height of traditionalism to the very avant-garde. Jouin salvaged as many of the original oak panels and inset Nicolas Poussin–esque paintings as possible after the blaze and reproduced the rest. He also kept the marble mantelpiece. The director of the hotel requested a Régence style, just like in the guest rooms—and he almost got his wish. Jouin gave him Régence with a twist. Bar stools take the form of Louis XVI side chairs, elongated and vertiginously high, with woodwork painted a metallic gray. Newfangled Régence canapés, "hybrids between a classic sofa and a car seat," feature retractable center armrests. He also worked his modern-day magic on the Murano glass light fixtures (half the normal size and fitted with LEDs) and the club chairs covered in leather and wool (streamlined versions custom-made by Cassina). Claude Lorrain landscapes, reproduced as monochromatic screen prints, act as backdrops in five velvet-clad alcoves. "They're very Andy Warhol," says Jouin.
The bar itself, in curved glass and stainless steel, measures 26 feet in length and is lit from within. "It's like an iceberg or something from Blade Runner," Jouin says. Each of the sections was fabricated with the aid of a steel mold that imparted a motif of indentations to the glass.
The designer worked more illumination wizardry with a huge plaster-and-fiberglass form on the ceiling. The piece weighs nearly 1,800 pounds and emits neon light that gradually passes from blue to violet to red. "When people come to the Plaza Athénée, they are looking to take a trip back to the elegance of the past. However, this object—this UFO—projects you into the future," says the designer. "Suddenly, the space becomes quite surreal. You're no longer sure of exactly where you are." It seems that Parisians rather like losing their bearings.