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Athénée Palace – How Bucharest’s High Society Used to Party

24 Mar 2011

The English Bar, the Brasserie and the Restaurant at Athénée Palace were the venues most frequented by the capital’s high society between the two World Wars. Built in 1914 as per French architect Teophile Bradeau’s plans on the land of the former Ivanciu Gherasi Inn, Athénée Palace is Romania’s first building made with armoured concrete and a source of inspiration for writers worldwide. Construction began in 1912 and, once complete in 1914, the building comprised 149 rooms and 10 suites decorated in Louis 14th style inspired by the recurring styles in France and England at the time.

‘Back when it was built, Athénée Palace used to pride itself with being the country’s only building featuring a foundation made with armoured concrete. The hotel has also benefited from a favourable position, right next to the Athenaeum and the Royal Palace, which is why the venue was well liked by the top figures of the society between the two World Wars’, says historian Dan Falcan for The Evening Truth.

The English Bar, Bucharest’s Favourite Place Between the Two World Wars

Historian Dan Falcan also says that, between the two World Wars, the hotel was used as shelter by war correspondents, German officers and even Spanish government officials coming to Romania during the Civil War. Throughout the years, the hotel – close to the Romanian Athenaeum – has hosted MPs, writers and numerous other high-profile figures.

From Geo Bogza and Goga to Van Basten and The Rolling Stones

Amongst the hotel’s most renowned guests were Romanian classicists Geo Bogza, Octavian Goga and Pastorel Teodoreanu, and – years later – football stars such as Marco Van Basten and Edwin Van der Sar, as well as famous musicians.

Geo Bogza Checked in at the Hotel in 1978

‘Athénée Palace has hosted the likes of Joe Cocker, Sting and The Rolling Stones. On his visit to Bucharest, president Richard Nixon checked into Athénée Palace’, said Manuela Meres, the hotel’s spokesperson, for The Evening Truth. Chef Iulian Stanciu also recalls the American president’s visit in 1968, when Iulian was working in the hotel’s kitchen: ‘I remember him taking us to a guest house where we prepared dishes for the entire mission. We served “răcituri” (cold cuts) as starters, followed by a traditionally Romanian main’, the chef recalls.

De Waldeck, Newsweek correspondent in Bucharest, was so impressed with the history of the hotel that she wrote a book about the atmosphere there in the 40s. In her book, she described Athénée Palace as one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan places, bringing together members of the royal family and renowned journalists.

Athénée Palace – Stories and Legends

The book presents the key moments in Romania’s history between 1940 and 1941, from the detachment of ”Basarabia” to the rebel legion and the ‘green shirts’ procession.

One of the rather hilarious stories surrounding Athénée Palace is around a storyteller named Pastorel Teodoreanu.  Before being taken prisoner in several communist prisons, Pastorel was a recurring customer of the hotel’s bar. One night, some say, he walked outside the bar and gave 5 lei to a man in uniform that he thought was a doorman and asked him to hail a cab. The man, feeling somewhat insulted, informed him that he was an admiral, not a valet. Pastorel then said: ‘Get me a ship then.’

The Four Refurbishments

After its first refurbishment in 1937, the hotel has been refurbished three more times so far. The construction team that changed the look of the hotel in order to reflect the modern style of the 1940s was led by Duiliu Marcu, the renowned Romanian architect. Following the bombings in August 1944 which caused severe damage to the building, the hotel was refurbished by the same architect. IN 1965, an annexe was built in order to cater for the increasing footfall and the guests’ requirements.

Athénée Palace was refurbished once more and reopened in 1997, when it was managed by Hilton. Today, the hotel boasts 272 rooms, out of which 38 are double rooms, 45 suites and 20 luxury suites.

The Place to Be in the 1930s – Le Diplomate Becomes Part of the National Treasury

The English Bar and Le Diplomate ballroom – two of the main venues within the hotel throughout the years and symbols of its identity continue to be an integral part of Athénée Palace. In the 1930 and 1940s, the English Bar was one of capital’s most popular venues due in part to the wide range of cocktails and cigars. Le Diplomate ballroom is listed as one of Bucharest’s landmarks and is one of the best preserved reception rooms in the country.

 

Source: ‘Stories from Bucharest – Athénée Palace, “The Bamboo” of Little Paris: see how the capital’s high society used to party

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Athénée Palace – How Bucharest’s High Society Used to Party

The English Bar, the Brasserie and the Restaurant at Athénée Palace were the venues most frequented by the capital’s high society between the two World Wars.

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