Opera, Naughty Angels and Extraordinary Snails: A Rather Elegant Whirl Through Paris

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Above Image: Palais Garnier

What we had always most loved about Paris was its stubborn resistance to change. Vive la ville de la lumière!

But “branded” hipster encroachment has worryingly taken over such districts as the Bastille, Pigalle, and Belleville. And frankly, we’ve already had enough of the goofy facial hair and over-produced cocktails back in New York.

So, upon our most recent visit to the French capital, we decided to skip the hip, and revisit some of the things that for us make Paris so…intemporel. To her we never tire of saying, ne changez jamais, don’t ever change.

Here’s what we did.

 

Tour the Palais Garnier

Sure, there’s La Scala in Milan and Staatsoper in Vienna; but Paris’s oh-so-grandiosely-grand opera house has something more of the intrigue about it – after all, this is where Le Fantôme was born. Fittingly, we exchanged philosophical arrows with our brilliantly eccentric guide and, ultimately, we lost. She also regaled us with the history of seating hierarchy (N.B. Ask about tickets for the “hidden” seats, which can be booked for just 10 euro.)

Revisit Georges at The Pompidou

It was the pinnacle of all Parisian super-fabulousness when it debuted back in 2000 (remember how optimistic we were back then?). But Georges – the crown jewel of the Costes empire – is once again, or perhaps maybe still, tres fashionable…which is very well with us, since we’d go for the view alone. Perched spectacularly atop the Centre Pompidou museum, its space age decor now seems a brilliantly futuristic counterpoint to all that grumpy hipster old-timeyness. But the international menu dazzles like the vistas of Paris, including possibly the most awesome croque monsieur in the city, and the appropriately titled Extraordinary Snails.

 

Take in a Gripoix Glass Jewelry Workshop

Renowned for the Chanel Gripoix jewels, worn by the likes of Rihanna and Emma Watson, this workshop, opened on the gorgeous Place des Victoires in late 2015, sells the brand’s own dazzling collection. Upstairs we watched as bespoke (note correct use of word) pieces were being created for moneyed clients. But on the ground floor, you can buy strikingly colorful necklaces, earrings and brooches for surprisingly approachable prices.

Go “Behind the Scent” at Serge Lutens

He’s the mystical French guru of fragrance. And entering his flagship boutique, hidden mysteriously away amidst the gardens of the Palais Royal, is like being welcomed into a sacred space. There are secret hideaways with astrological references and nautical charts, an upstairs sanctuary done up with Asian wall panels, even a Virtual Reality room…with medieval furnishings. The ethereal signature scents have magically poetic descriptions – for instance “Deliver us from Good! Jasmine petals are as white as snow. Black is my religion.” (La religieuse) and “She’s a rose with thorns, don’t mess with her. She’s a girl who goes to extremes. When she can, she soothes; and when she wants … !” (La fille de Berlin). An experience.

 

Get Bespoke Shoes Made at Non-Bespoke Prices

Tucked away in the charming Passage des Deux Pavillons in the 1st Arrondissement, Derville is an unassuming little shop that makes some of the best custom shoes in Paris. And they can be had for as little as…$700. The trick? They use a machine for the soles – though you’d never know it. And not just for business types, the shoes come in colors like pink, orange and sky blue.

Have a Glamorous Dinner at Mini Palais

Part of the awe-inspiring Grand Palais museum and exhibition complex, this is the place to go when you’ve had enough of all those charmingly low-key bistrotheques. Despite the name, it’s a statement restaurant in the best sense. Climb a grand staircase, enter into a dramatic foyer, and emerge into a dining room with arched windows, high ceilings and impeccable style. The menu is by Eric Frechon, Paris’ most exalted chef: lemon potato gnocchi, cod in tamarind crust, roasted scallops with fine truffle muslin. There’s also a plush outdoor terrace amidst the classical columns.

 

Stay: The Hilton Paris Opera

Face it, you’d stay for the name alone. It says to everyone, “Yes, I am staying somewhere grand in Paris.” Recently made over, there’s now a contemporary sparkle to its 19th Century majesty. The rooms have been done up with a stylish, modern elegance – and those looking out towards Gare Saint Lazare offer supreme Parisian-street-life watching.
But we spent most of our time in Le Grand Salon, literally a listed historic monument – with forty-five-foot ceilings, glittering chandeliers and cool, modern furnishings. You can breakfast like the Marquess of Something-or-Other, or try to spot the naughty angels amongst the stunning frescoes over a few rounds of Hugo Saint Germain champagne cocktails. There’s a Le Pain Quotidien on site, as well, should you need something a little less, say, imposing, for an important biz lunch.
And just step out of the hotel in you’re in Lazare, the casual but super buzzy new bistro – also from the many Michelin-starred Eric Frechon – in the station of the same name. The sausages and mashed potatoes are genuinely life-altering.

 

  • Hilton Paris Opera
  • Hilton Paris Opera
  • Hilton Paris Opera

Let Los Feliz School You on Today’s Finest Tequila

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You think you know tequila? Perhaps you do, but I guarantee you’ll find a few bottles behind the bar at Manhattan’s Los Feliz that you haven’t yet had the pleasure of sampling. I certainly did. I recently spent a pleasurable hour on a barstool there under the guidance of head bartender Ben Carrier, who took me through some of the Lower East Side tequileria’s most interesting and eye-opening offerings. With a tequila menu divided into blanco (unrested), reposado (rested less than one year), and añejo (rested beyond one year) categories, he quickly got me up to speed on the many beautiful expressions of the fruit of the agave plant. I highly recommend that every spirits enthusiast submit to the same rigorous training regimen.

 
If you swore off tequila years ago, realize that today’s finest bottles are miles from the swill that gave you the worst hangover of your life back in college. When you’re at Los Feliz you can forget about the lick-slam-suck ritual designed the mask the flavor of rotgut. Every one of the 120-plus tequilas you’ll find there are meant to be sipped as you would a fine Scotch. From the Hacienda del Cristero blanco to the Milagro Select Barrel reposado to the Don Pilar añejo, you’ll want to savor every sip, rather than getting it in your belly as quickly as possible before the wet T-shirt contest begins. Unless you’re some kind of jimador, you’ll need some guidance, so tell Carrier (or whoever happens to be behind the bar) a little about your preferences, and you’ll have a mind-blowing tequila in front of you in no time. 
 
But what if straight spirits aren’t your thing, and you prefer the complexity of well-made cocktails? Again, you’re in the right place. I’ve enjoyed many margaritas in my day, but never thought of them as anything more than a fun and frivolous drink to enjoy in the sunshine, certainly not a sophisticated and nuanced cocktail. With one sip, the Los Feliz Classic changed my mind on the subject. Made with Pueblo Viejo Blanco, fresh lime juice, and organic raw agave, it’s a mildly sweet and an amazingly well-balanced drink sure to please even the most discerning cocktail drinker. It’s a margarita that’s been to finishing school, refreshing and delightful. And if you don’t love it, there are a half-dozen other margarita varieties to choose from, not one of which is extruded from a neon-green slushie machine. 
 
Once you’ve had a few sips, order some red snapper ceviche from chef Julieta Ballesteros’ dinner menu and explore the funky tri-level space. From the street-level Taqueria, which faces Ludlow Street, find your way to the secret door that leads to the Cobble Room, with muraled walls and a gorgeous marble bar. A few more steps down brings you to the lounge, which boasts a DJ, chandeliers, antique mirrors, and leather banquettes: perfect for a private party with a few dozen of your closest friends. 
 
Back at the bar, you’ll probably be feeling a bit more adventurous at this point, so go ahead and splurge on a glass of Porfidio añejo ($19) and watch the pedestrians rush down the sidewalk in a stress-fueled hurry that you simply don’t feel anymore.