The bar

During my visit to the Plaza Athénée in 2014 after the renovation of the hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with head bartender Thierry Hernandez. He works now in another hotel in Paris.

The decor of the bar of the Plaza has been redesigned, giving way to a completely different concept. Why did you choose to renovate this bar, which was scarcely 12 years old? What factors led you to this decision?

The Plaza Athénée’s new bar is a continuation of the former. It was important to maintain the spirit of the bar: a continuity in the atmosphere and the ambiance. The Plaza’s Bar is a lively music bar, one that has become part of a trendy Parisian night out.

The former bar of the Plaza was 12 years old, and the clientele were beginning to age; they were getting married, having kids, and essentially changing their rhythms of living. It was therefore time to renovate and develop new offerings.

The goal was to reach out to a new, trendy, younger clientele. We wanted to offer them a place where they could see themselves becoming part of it. It is now a contemporary site that continues the spirit of the former bar.

How have the bar offerings changed?

We knew that we had to offer this younger crowd something they’d be able to recognize. This Generation Y group has particular habits in their modes of consumption. They like things that are easy, that aren’t too complicated to understand, and they prefer things that are easy to drink, easy to order, where the codes of recognition remain simple.

We wanted to move towards this direction—that is, to offer them codes that they already knew. Cocktail bars in general tend to be very complicated for the uninitiated. There are various types of glasses full of alcohol, plenty of combinations that the client doesn’t necessarily understand nor appreciate. I didn’t go anywhere near the latest mixology bars because they all cater to very specific needs, and none of them correspond to the demands of our particular clientele.

I was looking for highly elaborate cocktails, presented in a simple manner. We will be working primarily with natural ingredients. There were certain products—such as bitters and syrups—that we knew we wanted to make ourselves. We will also be relying on fresh fruit.

The presentation will become very important. We’ve developed a set of glasses that will allow each client to order his cocktail in one of three ways: small, medium, or large. We use what looks to be the same glass throughout; in fact, you will find that it’s a blown glass, a trompe-l’oeil, with a base of varying depth depending on the size you select. As a result, you won’t be able to discern based on the appearance of the glass alone whether a client has chosen, for instance, a small or a large cocktail.

All the drinks at the bar will be served in this glass. With the exception, that is, of dry martinis, champagne, and wine. Our objective is to sell cocktails.

To see the bar menu, all it will take is to scan the QR code on the beer mat using one’s telephone. We will also offer an iPad menu for those who experience connection or technical difficulties with this innovation. You will also have the option to order your drink online.

Bar Plaza Athénée Laurent Delporte
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The new bar of the Plaza Athénée

What will happen to the bar counter and the preparation space?

This space has been completely renovated. We’ve hidden the bottles, which were traditionally found in the middle of the bar. We’ll have an island that will serve as our ‘cocktail lab.’ These cocktails will have already been pre-made in the carafes: there will be 20 carafes.

We also had to keep the gestures and rituals of the Bartender. We are working on the presentation manners of the bartender, who will be adding the final touches to the cocktail around the island in front of the clients’ eyes. The cocktail will be pre-mixed, emulsified, ‘checked,’ and finalized before the client. For instance, we’ll take fresh Thai coconut and cut it for certain types of cocktails in front of the client to preserve the freshness of the coconut milk. We’ll also have soy wrappers that we’ll place on the cocktail to recall the fabric draped along the ceiling of the bar. There will be many interesting winks and nods in our service.

I have the great luck of being in charge of a bar that is both in very good operation and busy most of the time. This new organization will allow me to guarantee excellence in my cocktails and to respect my recipes scrupulously. This new placement promises to correspond to the expectations of newer generations and improve the service speed.

In what ways will the Plaza Athénée’s bar offerings be different?

It’s actually very simple to offer a distinctive cocktail. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to differentiate champagne. The cocktail allows a bartender to make his mark. As for the rest, I think that it’s up to the ambiance and the design to make the difference. We are the only Palace that offers a bar with a contemporary design. We have an ambiance specific to the Plaza Athénée, thanks to our in-house DJ, who comes on at the end of the day and after dinner hours.

How do you assist your teams? In what ways do they play an essential role?

We are a team of 35. We’ve stayed pretty much the same as before the renovation. While the bar was closed, many people on the team left to work in other bars in the same hotel group. They very often went abroad to see new things level out their level of service. They sought to professionally enrich themselves. It was lucky for us to have these nine months to pass the time watching other concepts and undergo new experiences. We owe it to our hotel proprietor: the teams are very grateful to him.

A re-opening is pretty much like a brand-new opening. There are many things to put in place. We’ve changed the concept of the bar, all the behind-the-scenes actions of the teams, the technical system, the management, the ordering and payment systems, and more. There have been, in fact, many changes, even if we’ve kept many of the original reference points.

Today, I remain very proud of what we’ve designed, and I look forward to seeing what we will do.

Plaza Athenee Bar
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The bar

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