Back in April, I spent a night at L’Hôtel Banke, a flamboyant boutique hotel in the Opéra quarter of Paris that occupies the former headquarters of the CCF bank. Photographer Vincent Bourdon joined me for a few hours of shooting and exploring in order to create a story, and, finally I am able to share this unique place with you…
The doorman takes my luggage and ushers me in with a smile. Swathes of crumpled red taffeta are draped dramatically above, lit by a spectacular contemporary chandelier. Rushing to arrive, and with my mind elsewhere, I am suddenly brought into the moment and taken by surprise. It’s a theatrical entrance, almost like walking into the foyer of an opera house, setting the mood for what is to come.
The imposing building dates to the early 20th century and was designed by talented architects Cassien-Bernard and Paul Friesé. From the street, it’s classic and stately, jutting out like the bow of a cruise liner at the junction of Rue La Fayette and Rue Pillet Will, home to headquarters of the Figaro newspaper.
Once inside, the space opens up to a jaw-dropping rotunda crowned with a soaring glass ceiling, a grand lobby indeed, where Vincent is waiting. Marble pillars, imposing archways, a beautiful mosaic floor and the original wooden bank counters rub shoulders with 21st century red leather sofas, gold banquettes and perspex bar stools; an opulent blend of Neo-Baroque and modern design. It’s a unique, striking space filled with burgundy, gold and beaucoup de bling. Refurbished as a four-star hotel in 2009, the building is classified as an historic monument.
The doorman accompanies me up to my suite on the sixth floor. It’s inviting and serene with hardwood floors and 60 square metres of space.
Stylish pendant lights flank the leather headboard, and the king-size bed is made up with luxurious burgundy taffeta and crisp linen. Beyond is a bathroom of black marble.
The afternoon sun plays on the sheer maroon curtains, dropping away before flooding the room with light; a double exposition.
Located in the 9th arrondissement, the hotel is conveniently close to a cornucopia of delights. A dash to the end of the street will take you to Boulevard Haussmann and les grands magasins for a shopping spree at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. An added bonus is that it’s not far to carry those shoeboxes back to your hotel! Also just a short stroll away is Opéra Garnier, for a special evening out, and a little further, Place Vendôme and the Tuileries Gardens. To the north lies rue des Martrys, a lively merchant street that leads up to Montmartre, while a meander east will take you to a labyrinth of nineteenth-century covered passageways, dusted with old-world charm.
A tour of the hotel by the lovely Emilie takes us down to the diamond vault in the basement. Originally used by the bank there are around 400 safes here – some inconceivably large. The metro rumbles above us. It’s a movie moment. Today the room is dark and shadowy, leather sofas empty, but the room can be booked for photo shoots, film, and private events such as cocktail parties.
Back in the lobby, we peer up the iron spiral stairwell, an allegory of the snake. It also has something of the Eiffel Tower about it. Emelie tells us that one of the architects who designed the bank was in fact from the Eiffel School.
We sweep up to the first floor, originally bank offices, and walk along the balcony that runs around the walls, offering a dramatic view of the lobby below. Peeking into a room or two we discover an exuberant mix of golden age spirit and crisp contemporary design, with plaited leather rugs, marble bathrooms and designer furniture. There are 94 rooms and 16 lavish suites in all, dressed in hues of cream, chocolate and cassis.
Number 106 is the former office of the president of the bank, and one of the best suites. It’s dripping with glamour, red and gold. The romantic circular room has a bay window, marble fireplace and gilded moldings, not to mention a white leather bed and chairs from Bretz, the German manufacturer of luxuriously designed furniture and cult sofas. On the way out we pass a collection of Chinese artefacts. Each floor of the hotel showcases an impressive collection of art – it’s almost a boutique museum.
The Banke is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and part of the Derby Hotels Collection, a small group of eclectic hotels run by the Spanish ‘Clos family’, with addresses in Barcelona, Madrid, London and Paris. CEO Jordi Clos is an Egyptian archeologist and his wife is the artistic director of the hotels. Señor Clos owns and runs the only Egyptian museum in Barcelona, and each address features part of his private art collection of historically priceless jewellery, sculptures and artwork from different continents and civilizations. ‘At the Banke we have remarkable jewellery collections originating from Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas,’ says Emilie.
She explains that the hotel’s inspiration comes from the wife of the CEO – and her flamboyant style, flair for design and eccentric touches are everywhere. The lobby, for example, features an assortment of intriguing treasures preserved under glass domes: shells and starfish, old pharmacy bottles, a vintage globe of the world.
Next, we climb up to the rooftop (not open to guests) for a breathtaking view of the city. Sacré Cœur with its giant meringue dome sits across the rooftops. One of the suites boasts a dress circle view of the magnificent basilica.
Afterwards, we head back to the lobby for an apéro at the LolaBar, which serves cocktails and traditional tapas, before dining at the hotel’s Josefin gastronomic restaurant on the opposite side of the lobby. In such a cavernous space, the bar is not such a cosy place for a drink, and personally, I find the seating rather uncomfortable.
The black leather chairs and glam gold banquettes of the Josefin make up for it, a comfortable designer setting with mood lighting and sheer black curtains. Spanish and French cuisine are served, with Mediterranean specialities. We start with a plate of delicious Iberian bellota ham & pan con tomate. The staff is friendly and the service excellent and there’s a small selection of Spanish wines to choose from. Mains include pluma of Ibérique pork with black pudding spring rolls, and beef tartare with gaufrette potatoes. Vincent opts for the succulent lamb with a tajine of legumes confits, while I choose the delicate sea bream, with a flavoursome piperade of jambon de bellota. The Millefeuilles Josefin with caramel & pear sorbet for dessert tastes as good as it looks!
And then I say goodbye, enter my soundproof room, close my blackout curtains and, on a very comfortable bed, fall straight to sleep. Here at the Banke, you can bank on a good night’s rest.
Photos by Vincent Bourdon ©
Accommodation courtesy of L’Hôtel Banke