Paris: Who wins when budget hotels go boutique?
Legend has it that Oscar Wilde remarked shortly before his death: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” The comment pertained to the hotel room where he was staying, which would become his final resting place.
These days, the same building houses a different sort of hotel, not the one with the ugly wallpaper—a squalid place called Hotel L’Alsace—but now a Left Bank darling, a luxury hotel simply named L’Hôtel.
Cheapo picks go from “budget” to “boutique”
In the past few years, Paris has seen several instances of inexpensive hotels closing their doors, being renamed and revamped before finally reopening as full-fledged boutique properties. However, the great majority of them had not been fleabags crying for renewal—or corrective closure—but popular and beloved quality budget hotels.
Several properties have followed this course of events and EuroCheapo has mourned the loss of each passing budget hotel. The Lyon Mulhouse—my very favorite Parisian hotel for years—became the Hotel Original; the Séjour Beaubourg is now the Georgette, and the Sévigné in the Marais, was reborn as the Émile.
Hotel Crayon by Elegancia, located in an enviable spot in the shadow of the Louvre, is the former Louvre Forum, now thoroughly refurbished and rechristened, while the modern and sophisticated Design Hotel Sorbonne, in the Left Bank, was the Hotel de la Sorbonne in its past life.
Also, smack dab in the middle of the Latin Quarter, two other exceedingly cheapo-friendly hotels have closed their doors. The former Delhy’s, now defunct and in cheapo-heaven, has been transmogrified into Le Clos de Notre Dame. This three-star newcomer, decorated in a design style, has announced its imminent opening, which will be celebrated with free champagne.
On the other hand, the mythic Les Argonautes, a favorite of budget-conscious bohemians and night owls, closed a couple of years ago and its ultimate fate is a mystery.
Almost all these new boutique hotels are doing very well indeed. Their quite fabulous rooms, the bold decor and excellent service have attracted a different legion of fans. The better for them!
Adieu to a favorite cheap sleep
However, I was shocked and saddened when the Lyon Mulhouse closed. That was a neat, utterly comfortable and welcoming place, which boasted an exceptional location—a short walk from Place de la Bastille and the magnificent Place des Vosges (and within walking distance of most of central and east Paris, either of the left or the right bank). The front staff was incredibly courteous and friendly: Nothing seemed too much trouble for them and they were genuinely helpful. The hotel prices were extremely advantageous. A real gem; one in a million.
To get an idea of what the place was like, here is the groovy description that Theadora Brack, EuroCheapo’s chronicler extraordinaire wrote a couple of years ago (“…so start packing your raccoon coats because the Hôtel Lyon-Mulhouse is the real McCoy…”).
All these losses makes EuroCheapo ever more appreciative of those hotels that resist renovating away all of their charms.
[Where else would a letter carrier from Denver, Colorado on her first European holiday, rub elbows and fraternize with some upbeat musicians from South America, or enterprising college girls from Taiwan get the first taste of the Vie de Bohème by ecstatically listening to the elocutions of a would-be Arthur Rimbaud, in search of inspiration in the university of life that is Paris? Would you picture these disparate characters in anything other than an utterly romantic, charming hotel as the ones described in detail by the EuroCheapo knowledgeable diarists?]
Deconstructing the trend
This rather recent trend of successful boutique hotels being born from the ashes of highly popular and quality budget ones (rather than from discredited and rundown sleeps, of which there are plenty) implicitly generates a couple of perverse—and wrong—corollaries.
The first is that a budget hotel and a boutique-type one are mutually exclusive. What an absurd notion. While both types have their own core constituencies, they can also sometimes overlap. You can at times book a room in some of the bijou hotels for more or less 100 euros, as Lise Charlebois-Ludot has persuasively discussed in her column “Paris: 5 Budget hotels with boutique style“, or for a little more, as in the sleek and comfortable Design Hotel Sorbonne. So, definitely, there is room for everyone in Paris.
The other notion is that the idea of a “deluxe” type hotel is indisputably a modern one, meanwhile dismissing affordable and simple sleeps as outdated and passé.
Really? We all know about the inflated costs typical of several expensive multi-star hotels, where you have to pay extra not only for the utilitarian Wi-Fi but for a myriad of useless gadgets. But, above all, you’ll be overcharged for the added decoration, at times extravagant and overdone, perpetrated by a designer with an inflated ego.
Consequences of the boutique craze
As a result of all of this, there are fewer decent budget hotels available to budget-conscious tourists. Consequently, we will have to conform to pay more, now for rooms in properties with lesser quality/price ratios than those of our old favorites. In this scenario of spiraling costs, it’s we who pay in the long run, indirectly bearing the costs of the (usually unnecessary) designers’ oeuvre—as well as playing a part in the overall swelling of property values and real estate speculation.
Many of these reforms are made in the name of “modernity.” However, there is nothing remotely avant-garde or modern about the restrictive concept that sees being wealthy as a prerequisite for being able to travel. On the contrary, this is an archaic—and rather offensive—assumption.
Nor is there anything particularly new about paying a fortune for sojourning in a room that recreates the stuffy ambiance of the “Thousand-and-one Nights'” tales. Maybe that’s cute and extremely exotic, but modern? Maybe it was breathtakingly innovative during the Orientalists’ heyday, a century and a half ago…
In today’s world to be truly modern is to empower the cost-conscious and adventurous travelers, especially young people, to reach their varied goals and broaden their horizons. Budget-savvy travel is a mindset, and goes hand in hand with its natural companion: slow travel.
This is a notion that Wilde would have happily espoused. Now, that is a modern concept!
Share your thoughts!
Who do you think wins when hotels go from budget to boutique? Is this trend perfectly normal and, in fact, good for the consumer? Have you been heartbroken by the closure of your favorite budget hotel? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.