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Puttin’ on the Ritz

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Photo: Andrea Fazzari

Acar scanned a printout of the day’s arrivals. “Bündchen—I don’t see her here.”

“No, that’s next week, Fashion Week,” offered the reservations manager. “Six nights.”

“Okay, but the hotel is still too hot. Can we get the temperature turned down to twenty-two [72 degrees]?I'm dying.”

Acar fielded a report from the food and beverage manager (a spoiled batch of Ritz-label champagne would have to be withdrawn) before tossing a hand grenade: he had just learned that twin beds were being pushed together to create kings, and sold as such.

“I'm warning you guys, that’s not the way we do business. You sell a king, you deliver a king. If there are none and it means losing three rooms, we lose three rooms. Nobody should pay eight hundred euros and get less than what they were sold. We're a brand. Aston Martin doesn’t promise one thing and give another. Rate integrity comes with value. Have a nice day.”

Acar is right to insist on real kings, an uncommon if not unique policy, but there is some sense that his energies could at times be more profitably spent—say, getting the concierges off autopilot. A request for an out-of-print book came back with a note saying it does not exist in French. In fact, the book only exists in French. Staying at the Park Hyatt, I gave out the same task, and a simple Google search landed a copy in seconds. Another day, I asked a Ritz concierge what Métro to take to the American Hospital. “I don’t advise a Métro,” the man said. “A taxi will be easier.” Easier?Really?He wasn’t joking.

As a hotel whose identity is embedded in details so fine, niceties so “minor,” that many are felt rather than noticed, the Ritz deserves better. History does not record César Ritz’s thoughts on tooth glasses, but the current practice of stowing them out of sight in medicine cabinets is pure him. Charles Ritz, César’s son, held that the hotel’s past was important only for maintaining “the indisputable traditions.” An incomplete list would have to include the key-shaped light switches in bronze filigree, the bedside command boxes for summoning a waiter, the kitschy but irresistible gold swan fixtures from which water flows in the bathrooms, the pink bath towels, and the possibility of having your sheets laundered with savon de Marseilles. Also indelibly Ritz (but never, as Charles asserted, ritzy) are the balloon awnings over the entrance, the 361-foot-long gallery of 89 retail vitrines, the Espadon’s faux-branch armchairs and ceiling cloudscape, and the lobby that is not a lobby. (Ritz père thought that big conven­tional ones attracted loiterers.) And what could be more Ritz than the delivery of your dinner check, as the service handbook requires, 60 seconds after it is asked for...unless it’s the quaint wooden carousel on which reception hangs your key?

There’s a lot to love at the Ritz. But it’s a mistake to try to monetize the experience, as natural and tempting as that is. It’s impossible in any case to assign a value to the bewitchingly nostalgic act of turning a key-shaped light switch. A night at the Ritz is a priceless education. No voluptuary can afford to die dumb.

Christopher Petkanas is a Travel + Leisure special correspondent.

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