London’s fictitious Hotel du Barry is nine floors of wickedness, jealousies, aberrant desires and delectable sins. It’s a darkly humorous tale fuelled by gin and murderous intent.
I had lot of fun writing the Hotel du Barry. I wanted to create a palace akin to the Vatican, a place of mystery and imagination. It would be a city: self-contained, self-possessed with the emphasis on fine living and extreme luxury.
My research began with the luxurious European hotels established in the late 1800’s to early 20th Century: The Savoy London, Claridges London, The Ritz London and the Paris Ritz.
The original Ritz hotels seized my imagination. César Ritz – known as king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings – established the Ritz London in May 1906. This was just eight years after he’d opened the quintessentially French Ritz Hotel in Paris.
There were stringent height restrictions in London. Legend has it that when Queen Victoria gazed out her Buckingham palace window, she became incensed that her view of Parliament was obscured by a block of flats in Westminster.
Nobody messed with the Queen’s view and legislation governing height restrictions was introduced in 1894. Subsequently for over 250 years, St Pauls Cathedral was the tallest building in London.
This didn’t deter me. I decided the Hotel du Barry London would simply expand sideways. So I burnt down several buildings, including the large decrepit theatre next door, to facilitate the hotel’s colonization of the area.
The hotel was built from tough American steel, on top of the double basement known as the labyrinth. Several kitchens, storerooms, dining rooms, cellars and staff offices are secreted down there.
The Hotel du Barry opened in 1907. Although it is only nine storeys, it overlooks the Thames River and sprawls over several blocks of prime real estate.
Lavish European style, obscures the hotel’s pragmatic mercenary intent. And every accoutrement in the hotel whispers – don’t even try to resist me.
‘At night it was floodlit and fiery; a flamboyant mishmash of Italianate and Venetian architecture, with a few quirky Renaissance and classic Greek elements added on. As a wedding cake, it was an architectural masterpiece of reckless proportions.’
The Hotel du Barry’s nine floors soar up towards the ranks of sooty chimneys. And leering down from the pavilion roof are copper gargoyles, similar to Notre Dame’s gargoyles. The hotel’s imperiousness makes all the other buildings on the street cringe back down on their haunches.
Situated on the roof of the Hotel du Barry is the Winter Garden – a massive glass house, filled with exotic plants, treacherous cats and glittering chandeliers. Wild parties are held in the Winter Garden to mark the Winter Solstice, Christmas and significant births and deaths in the du Barry family.
The hotel’s interior bears homage to King Louis XIV’s Versailles. It’s chockers with crystal chandeliers, ornate gilding, curved staircases, French classic ironwork, massive marble columns and as much gilt and bronze as can possibly be crammed among the mirrors, palms, statues and frescoes.
The moneyed clientele ensconced in their palatial suites can obtain anything they desire from Henri Dupont, the concierge. Anything. And even the more modest hotel rooms have their own bathrooms, equipped with thick peach coloured towels. Why peach? Because it is more flattering against a lady’s complexion than white towels in the harsh morning light.
All equipment and furnishings are of the finest available, with elegant French silverware and Baccarat crystal much in evidence. The lighting is warm and discreet, the open fires well stoked and the food and wine sublime. At night, the plush woollen rugs are soft and sensuous under one’s bare toes.
In short, the fictitious Hotel du Barry invents itself as the mother of all Belle Époque hotels.
And as I discovered, writing fiction can be immensely satisfying because you can redraft grim reality into something infinitely more agreeable. As Andy Warhol shamelessly put it – ‘Art is what you can get away with.’
Photograph by Lesley Truffle (above) – Labassa Mansion, Melbourne. The facade of Labassa is in the French ‘Renaissance’ style of architecture. Featuring: Corinthian columns, arcaded verandas, classical decoration & sculptures, Italian marble panels and exquisite relief work.