The Ritz in Paris is closing its doors for a 2-year renovation. The French and the European upper crust are arming their butlers with blowtorches and prepping them with advanced negotiation techniques in case the hotel’s marble bath basins or shellacked rosewood bed-frames change one bit.
A. E. Hotchner, who is still chugging along at the midlapsarian age of 93, recounts in Vanity Fair some of his fondest memories of the hotel. He has a great story about Hemingway storming the Ritz’s famous watering hole after the Nazi occupation of Paris ended:
As World War II ended in Europe, Hemingway personally liberated the bar as the Nazis were retreating. It was expected that General Leclerc, in command of the Allied troops, would be first on the scene, marching up the Avenue de la Grande Armée with a full panoply of tanks, artillery, flags, and bands. But well before Leclerc could get there, a jeep came careening up the avenue, zipped under the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, and across the Place de la Concorde, then skidded to a stop in the Place Vendôme at the entrance of the Ritz. Hemingway was in command of that jeep. Ostensibly a war correspondent, but with a gun slung in the crook of his arm, he had taken charge of the motley group in the vehicle, most of them stragglers who had become separated from their units. Hemingway called them his “Irregulars.”
He led them into the Ritz, proclaimed its liberation, took command of the bar, and ordered champagne for everyone. Soon the renowned combat photographer Robert Capa—later killed in Indochina—came tooling up to the Ritz, thinking he was miles ahead of anyone else, but he was amazed to find that Hemingway had beaten him to it. Archie Pelkey, Hemingway’s driver, was standing guard at the entrance. “Hello, Capa,” Pelkey said. “Papa took good hotel. Plenty good stuff in cellar. Go on up.”
Oh, Hemmy. If you were still alive today, I bet you’d convince a bunch of boozers that they weren’t taking their habit seriously enough. How many mojitos does the man make?
P.s. Archie Pelkey is a sweet name.