Inside The Parisian Hotel Where James Joyce Finished Ulysses

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For most of the 20th century, Saint-Germain-des-Prés served as inspiration for creatives chasing tranquility in the vibrant City of Light. It was a charming neighborhood escape that became a melting pot for legends such as Honoré de Balzac, Jean-Paul Sartre Simone de Beauvoir, Ernest Hemingway, Édouard Manet, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce, to name a few, who brushed shoulders at now-iconic restaurants like Café de Flore, Café Les Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp.

In the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés sits one of Paris’s newest luxury 47-room boutique hotel, Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain—in the same space where Joyce finished Ulysses over 100 years ago. Tucked away on a side street on the Left Bank, in the 6th arrondissement, the hotel is one of Paris’s best-kept-secrets—and an oasis for those seeking to escape it all. Managing director Tim Goddard and architect Didier Benderli remodeled the ground floor of the hotel during the pandemic, adding a glass and stone entrance. It’s one of Benderli’s favorite spaces on the property, offering a corridor view through the three distinct 17th-century historic buildings that make up the hotel. “It stretches from the library and the James Joyce Bar to the restaurant, Les Parisiens, at the end of the block,” he says. “It creates a spacious yet intimate area that is the ideal place to pause after a day of exploring the city.”

Jerome Galland

Respect for the hotel’s history coupled with contemporary features were also core to the design process. “We created a cozy library lounge as an ode to the literary spirit of Saint- Germain-des-Prés, full of books from local publisher Éditions Gallimard—which published James Joyce novels at his time,” says Benderli. The lounge on the ground floor is decked out in Toile de Laque green walls, made exclusively for the hotel, giving off impressionistic vibes. Designed by Parisian artist François Mascarello, the stark white fireplace towering from floor to glass-paned ceiling, offers contrast to the room. “We kept the original idea of a fireplace lounge but modernized it to our style,” Benderli adds.

library pavillon faubourg saintgermain

A view of the hotel’s library.

Jerome Galland

James Joyce references are prominent throughout the hotel as the literary genius completed Ulysses in a room in the hotel’s previous life. Fans of Joyce’s work can sleep in the James Joyce Suite, dubbed the perfect spot for writers and creatives as it’s the quietest room in the building. The attic space was converted into a 753-square-foot suite with ample lounging space—including a writer’s desk—and sloped ceilings that offer gorgeous views of the picturesque tiled rooftops. “The James Joyce Suite is a tribute to the author himself; we dedicated our most quiet Suite above the rooftop—the perfect place for writers and readers,” says Benderli. Not to miss: the herringbone parquet flooring, sloped ceilings, and handcrafted chandelier specially commissioned from Parisian furniture and lighting designer, Alexandre Logé.

Every room is unique but expect commonalities such as decadent fabrics from houses like houses like Edmond Petit, Nobilis, and Dedar—plus marble wall panels, brass fittings, and geometric art deco touches throughout. Silky drapes and antique furnishings, plus a fireplace or Parisian balcony are the norm in superior rooms while junior suites will help you practice the true French Art de Vivre.

the james joyce bar

The James Joyce Bar.

Jerome Galland

Named in a nod to Joyce’s book, Dubliners, Les Parisiens, the hotel’s adjoining neo-brasserie, is curated by Thibault Sombardier, the chef behind Sellae and Mensae. The menu speaks to recipes that are dear to Sombardier, showcasing cuisine anchored in tradition with a modern refresh, while staying in code of the luxury brasserie. The digs are sleek and charming with mosaic floors, black marble tables, large mirrors, neutral-toned velvet banquets, and textured chairs.

Cozy up with friends and indulge in dishes like pigeon puff pastry with foie gras, cabbage, and giblet gravy, or corn-fed Landes chicken with anchovy, tarragon, and béarnaise sauce—and my favorite, Sombardier’s decadent paté en croute. Eat in season and wash it all down with the restaurant’s eclectic wine list showcasing a mix of references from French appellations. “Guests should also look out for the striking mosaic flooring in Les Parisiens, realized by the great mosaic artist, Florence Berthet Sonsino,” Benderli says.

A pre-dinner cocktail or nightcap at English club-inspired James Joyce Bar is ideal. Socialize at the sleek wood-paneled bar or dip into the plush velvet sofas and chairs in blush pink and cobalt blue and stay for a while. The cocktail menu is inspired by the area and the drinks are just as gastronomic as the eats and rotate seasonally.

It’s advised to ditch the elevator and take the preserved, 17th century spiral staircase to the underground Spa des Prés, a former cabaret where poet Léo Ferré launched his career. It’s rare to find a boutique hotel with a spa, adding one more reason to book a stay. In partnership with CODAGE, a made-to-measure Parisian wellness brand, the spa offers tailored spa treatments to detoxify the mind and body. A “Shopping Break” treatment promotes relaxation after a day of shopping at a multitude of Paris’ most prized boutiques—and the picture perfect indoor pool, hammam, meditation room, and fitness studio are perks of all hotel goers.

Should you need to leave the property, there’s a world of shops and restaurants at arm’s length. Scope out L’Ecume des Pages for books and journals, Fragonard Boutique Saint-Germain for fine fragrances, the 200-year-old Marie-Antoinette-approved Debauve & Gallais for chocolates, and Tiger for outstanding gin-based cocktails. If hunger strikes, carve out three hours for a divine lunch at two-Michelin-starred MARSAN. Chef Marsan par Hélène Darroze pays homage to her roots in Landes with an extraordinary tasting menu and the sommelier won’t let you down with the most exciting wine pairings, plus a cheese chariot that wheels around for dessert.

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