(p. C9) The Savoy, which opened in 1889, was glamorous and cosmopolitan, an antidote to Victorian stuffiness. Its owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte, the backer of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, had a theater next door, and his ambition was to create a modern luxury hotel the likes of which had never been seen. To fulfill his vision, in 1890 he turned to Escoffier and the Swiss hotelier Ritz, a man known for his impeccable taste, and in short order the two men, who’d had a previous success at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, made the Savoy into the most famous and profitable hotel and restaurant in the world.
“Ritz & Escoffier,” Luke Barr’s entertaining narrative history, reads like a novel (complete with cliff hangers and descriptions of the characters’ private thoughts). Both of its subjects had grown up poor, but were opposites temperamentally.
. . .
Neither man had to use the stairs at the Savoy, since the hotel had six elevators, the largest ever seen in Europe, which D’Oyly Carte called “ascending rooms.” There were 400 guestrooms and an unheard-of number of bathrooms–67 all told, many en suite and at no extra charge. (The recently opened Hotel Victoria provided just four for 500 guests.) The Savoy also had electric light that you could switch on or off in your room without getting out of bed, also at no extra charge.
. . .
. . ., D’Oyly Carte gave Escoffier and Ritz free rein from the start. The restaurant became enormously popular, a gathering place open to all who could afford it: aristocrats, the nouveau riche, royalty, Jewish bankers and fur traders (Jews weren’t freely accepted in society at the time), and stars of the theater and opera. Formal evening dress was de rigueur in the dining room and women were admitted–except those of “doubtful reputation and uncertain revenue,” who arrived unaccompanied, wearing makeup and large hats. Mr. Barr writes, “An extravagant hat worn in the evening, Ritz had discovered, was a sign of trouble.” But Ritz not only gave ladies’ banquets, he also successfully campaigned to change the laws against eating out on Sundays. Soon those formerly grim at-home evenings of “cold joint and gloom” became the most fashionable times of the week to dine at the Savoy.
. . .
Ritz had opened the hotel’s doors to anyone with money wearing the right clothes. The old social rules were broken. Mr. Barr comments, “Indeed, there was an element of decadence in the Savoy’s brand of luxury–it was this decadence that made it modern, the sense that pleasure was to be celebrated.”
For the full review, see:
Moira Hodgson. “‘Modern Hospitality.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 31, 2018): C9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 30, 2018, and has the title “‘Ritz & Escoffier’ Review: Modern Hospitality.”)
The book under review, is:
Barr, Luke. Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, the Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2018.