In the cafeteria of the public junior high school I attended, there was a nook called the Red Room, decorated with images of our mascot and painted a scarlet red, meant to reflect spirit and school pride. Everyone from a certain crowd--the cheerleaders, the jocks--ate in the Red Room. Junior high school was the pinnacle of stardom for most of them, and this figurative velvet rope only made their glow of popularity burn brighter to those on the outside--you wanted to follow their every move, but first, you had to get past the door.
There is a hotel in Paris so fabulous, just seeing the name in print prickles the very hairs on my neck--Hotel Costes. Wait, the hairs on the back of your neck didn’t stand up? Perhaps you pronounced it wrong in your head the first time. Try saying “OH-tel CUST." Bien.
The hotel is tony, gorgeous, and doting, yes. But other hotels in Paris do it better. It is also exclusive terrain for stars, fashion and music people, and those who are exceedingly rich and beautiful. And nobody does it better.
I mean there is nothing mock-worthy when it comes to The Costes.
This place just rocks (pretentiously). From the gorgeous (infamously rude) staff, to the elite (eurotrashy) clientele, to the pool that plays music underwater (allegedly, because who actually swims laps at The Costes?), to the somber lighting that pervades the space (all the better to savor narcotics, my dear).
I seem bitter you say? I have got my reasons, can’t we just leave it at that?
KIDDING! Of course we can’t leave it at that.
Humiliation à la Costes
We’d started at the Opéra Garnier on a crisp Saturday night in November. I was taking Kathleen to see Katia Kabanova for her birthday. We were having a tra la la night in Paris, so we thought, "Let us end with drinks at the Costes!"
10:30 pm I call Hotel Costes to reserve a table. "We only take reservations for dinner," the hostess tells us. I ask if there are still tables available at the bar. "Yes," she responds, "we still have room at the bar."
11:00 pm Our taxi arrives at rue Saint Honoré, a man in a black leather coat walks up to my side of the cab. Thinking he’s trying to get into the cab with us, I start to shake my head, “Huh, uh Buster.” Then I look up and see that we are, in fact, just in front of the hotel (the entrance is quite hush hush, you see); I realize the man is, in fact, the valet.
11:02 pm Instead of entering a spacious, light-filled lobby (The Costes is all about dark, dark, dark), you begin by passing through a tight corridor. In the corridor, I keep hearing voices just next to me, talking and laughing. The voices come from left and right, causing me to jerk my head around, only there’s no one else in the hallway. I realize THEY ARE PLAYING A RECORDING OF PEOPLE AT A COCKTAIL PARTY.
11:03 pm We see the hostess--petite, dressed in black, exquisitely, no cruelly beautiful. She is the most popular girl in school, just daring you to talk to her. I swear that she actually looks us up and down. THANK GOD I WAS WEARING MY GOLD JEAN-MICHEL CAZABATS, (you know the ones I mean), PHEW!
Me: Table for two, please?
Hostess: Sorry, we are complet right now.
Her cheekbones are so chiseled, you get the idea they could cut you. I give her a huge smile.
Me: On n’est pas difficile, on peut attendre. (We’re not fussy, we can wait).
This was my first big mistake: I told her we weren’t fussy. If there’s one thing understood by those who spend time around velvet ropes--NEVER UNDERMINE ONE’S OWN IMPORTANCE IN THE TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM. “We’re not fussy!” Jeez. I might as well have offered to massage the hostess’s scalp and give her a facial, too.
Hostess: You can’t wait here.
Me: Oh, okay. Can we wait at the bar?
Hostess: The bar is full too.
Me: Okay, we’ll just stand at the bar then.
Second Big Mistake: The Costes is not a standing kind of place. You lounge. You sit. We had betrayed ourselves as amateurs. Costian newbies.
Hostess: I’m sorry, you need to leave.
Hostess: sighing Fine, you can come back at midnight.
I started to say something about my call earlier, but the decision was made--she began pointedly ignoring us and ushering in the important looking couple who had just arrived.
This is where people who have pride would have left.
This is when Kathleen and I decided to use the bathroom. And all you really need to know is that Kathleen and I stayed in the bathroom a long time, BECAUSE WE HAD A POW-WOW IN WHICH WE EXCHANGED BLOOD AND DECIDED THAT THERE WAS NO WAY EITHER OF US WAS LEAVING THIS HOTEL. We wore them down. WE. WON.
Next time you go to The Costes, notice the mirrored wall just to the right of the bar. While waiting for our table, I kept catching my reflection, and I wasn’t sure I liked this person I saw. It didn’t bother me that they hadn’t let us right in. What concerned me was this: For someone who claimed not to be fussy, why did I make all that fuss? Do we never grow out of that junior high school desire to belong? Once we are on the inside, why does it suddenly seem less important?
Luckily, I didn’t have to look at myself for long, within a few minutes, we had a table, and then there were other things to look at. The velvet banquettes, my mojito--the powdered sugar swirling, then settling like flakes in a snow-globe--all the beautiful people. Who maybe were watching us, too.