Puttin’ Off The Ritz

The Ritz, 1948, photo courtesy of Getty Images

Est-que vous irez bientôt à Paris? Book a room. Not at the Ritz.

Pourquoi? Beginning in early summer 2012, the famed luxury hotel located on Paris’ Place Vendome will be closing its doors. It will undergo a 27-month renovation to become, well, ritzier.

Recently, the hotel that has been both a historical landmark and a watering hole for the glamorous faces of the world has been showing signs of age, just like its blue blood patrons. Originally built in 1898, its last facelift was in 1979, and it’s showing. Last May, the French Tourism Ministry excluded the Ritz from its annual list of “palaces” – five-star hotels of exceeding character – for the first time ever. In the past, it was not only taken for granted that the Ritz would be on this list, but the hotel was thought to define it. The list is important not only for reputation but for attracting clientele as well. Quelle horreur!

Modern day celebrities such as George Clooney as well as old-school figures such as Marcel Proust have walked the halls. Coco Chanel once lived there, and F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his novella “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” after it. It houses some of the top cultural destinations in the world – the Hemingway Bar, the restaurant L’Espadon.

The Hemingway Bar, photo courtesy of RitzParis.com

But history can only account for so many frayed napkins and scratches on the marble floors. Newer, more modern luxury hotels are becoming the new living quarters of the rich and famous while the Ritz is falling into the tired trap of being une attraction touristique. While the recession hardly applies to the hotel’s elite clientele, and thus they have pas de probleme paying the hefty bills, the competition in Paris’ hospitality market is surging. New hotels are being built, old hotels are being rebuilt – the Ritz needs to ensure that the rich and famous keep paying their bills rather than others’.

The renovation itself is being kept hush-hush. There are rumors of bathtubs that will fill in 10 seconds, the Vendome Bar will be re-roofed with glass and new suites will have terraces overlooking the garden. But the rest? Personne n’en est certain. What we do know is that it has to compete with the 10,000 square-foot spa of the newly opened Mandarin Oriental, the Louis Vuitton store in the soon-to-open Cheval Blanc, and the art gallery and cinema housed in the newly renovated Le Royal Monceau (all Parisian hotels). Oh mon dieu!

A lavish suite inside the Ritz, photo courtesy of Forbes.com

And the curtains aren’t the only things that need replacing. The Ritz currently has 500 employees. All but 30 will be laid off. C’est necessaire, but it’s not going to help France’s unemployment rate of 10%. Quel dommage!

C’est triste that the Ritz is no longer the place it once was. C’est triste that it will be closed for so long. C’est triste that it will be more difficult to track down George Clooney during his Parisian escapades. But when it re-opens its doors, it’s sure to be more glamorous than ever, meilleur que jamais. Just think of it this way: in order to remain the definition of hotel fashion, the Ritz is briefly going behind closed doors and puttin’ on the Ritz.