Cigar Aficionado

Hotel Crillon, Paris

Designed by Jacques-Ange Gabriel for Louis XV in 1758, the Hotel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde has lost little of its 18th-century splendor. Behind Gabriel's perfect classic facade, the sumptuous honey-colored marble lobby glitters with mirrors and crystal chandeliers, the noble staircase marches up to stately columned halls and the grand salons with gilded moldings still look out over the most beautiful public square in the world.

For more than a century, the landmark building was the family home of the Counts of Crillon until it was converted into Paris's first palatial luxury hotel in 1909. A few of its rooms remain almost as they were, including exquisitely hand-painted Suite No. 103-105, once the family's private chapel. The three large suites facing the Place de la Concorde on the fourth floor have just been redecorated by Sonia Rykiel, a fashion designer. Most of the standard and deluxe doubles are extremely spacious by Paris standards and all have the sort of sybaritic marble baths Louis XV would undoubtedly have enjoyed. The contemporary, understated Leonard Bernstein Suite No. 557, on the top floor, has a wraparound terrace that seems to embrace all of Paris.

The restaurant Les Ambassadeurs--all marble, mirrors and candlelight--has two Michelin stars, well deserved in light of Chef Christian Constant's consistently wonderful, seasonal menus: scallops with black truffles and the sheerest shaving of Parmesan; ragout of new green asparagus wih morel mushrooms; supreme of sea bass wih a crispy grilled sesame crust and lobster semolina, iced parfait of raspberries and lime. A la carte prices are in the normal two-star orbit of 450 francs to 700 francs (about $80 to $130), but there is an extremely reasonable fixed-price lunch menu at 330 francs ($60) and a degustation menu at 590 francs ($108).

The smoking section on the left side of the room allows cigars. Many patrons prefer to take their coffee, Cognac and cigars in the adjacent winter garden, says restaurant director Laurent Vanhoegaerden. He says he finds cigar smokers becoming more and more exigent about what they expect to find in the house humidor. "They know exactly what they want," he says, "and nothing else will do." He also notices "more and more" women requesting cigars. He had Cohibas, Bolivars, Davidoffs, Montecristo No. 2, No. 3, No. 5 and Especial No. 2, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta Churchills, Punch Double Coronas and Por Larrañaga.

The Crillon's second restaurant, the wood-paneled Obelisk, has a very good fixed-price menu at 250 francs (about $45). It also offers special dishes with great wines by the glass--fresh foie gras with Château Y'quem 1987; pasta al peso with Château Lafite-Rothschild 1983; smoked salmon with a Bâtard-Montrachet, 1987; seafood scrambled eggs with lobster coulis and a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, 1986. (The Crillon, the only French-owned grand hotel in the city, belongs to the Taittinger family.) Light meals and salads are available in the Obelisk bar.

Although it's not absolutely certain that Marie Antoinette took her music lessons in one of the Crillon's salons, it is most definite that Benjamin Franklin signed the Franco-American treaty recognizing U.S. independence there in 1778. Since then, Japanese Emperor Hirohito, King George V, queens Sophia of Spain and Fabiola of Belgium, Gen. John Pershing, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Charlie Chaplin, Tyrone Power, Shimon Peres, King Hassan of Morocco, Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Madonna have all at one time or another given their Paris address as 10, Place de la Concorde. It remains to this day a place of kings, queens, princesses and prima donnas.

-- Judy Fayard is a writer who makes her home in Paris.

Hotel de Crillon
10, Place de la Concorde
Phone: (33) 44-71-15-00
Standard double: 3,300 francs ($600) Deluxe double: 3,900 francs ($709)