Architect Fabrizio Casiraghi Reimagines Paris’s Famed Restaurant Drouant
Alongside creative director Franck Durand, Casiraghi refreshed the storied restaurant’s distinguished interior while preserving the iconic Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann Deco details
Just off Avenue de l’Opéra and conveniently located between the Louvre and Palais Garnier sits another Parisian institution that has long held court: Drouant. Founded in 1880 by Charles Drouant, the restaurant continues to occupy the same street-hugging perch on Place Gaillon in Paris’s second arrondissement, where, thanks to a recent renovation under the direction of architect Fabrizio Casiraghi and creative director Franck Durand, it is shining with a whole new light.
Equal parts culinary and literary legend, Drouant has famously been home to the deliberations of the Prix Goncourt jury since 1914 and the Prix Renaudot jury since 1926. It passed from brother to brother, then father to son, remaining in the Drouant family for over a century. In 1986, it began a period of shuffling through several owners’ hands until 2018, when brothers Thierry and Laurent Gardinier—onetime holders of Bordeaux’s Château Phélan Ségur and the current heads of Paris’s fabled Taillevent hospitality group—acquired it with a vision of preserving it into the future.
A world-renowned artists’ haunt with a famous staircase and book-lined walls, Drouant was originally a simple bar-tabac, or tobacconist bar, until the Académie Goncourt chose it as the site for its literary awards in the 1920s, prompting Jean Drouant to commission Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, the so-called Pope of Art Deco, to elevate the interiors and carve out a veritable bistro. Today, with the imagination of Casiraghi and Durand, the Gardiniers have upheld the high-Deco style of the 1930s interiors while taking a similar approach with the menu.
Émile Cotte, of 110 de Taillevent fame, was enlisted as head chef to reinterpret the basics of haute French cuisine. In collaboration with Philippe Mille, Cotte has rolled out a rich and varied selection of reinterpreted classics, maintaining iconic croûtes and vols-au-vent while introducing pairings of sea bass with green gnocchi, poultry with shrimp, and duck with mushrooms. The wine list boasts an impressive 2,000 bottles that represent over 400 vineyards, with an emphasis on the Rhône Valley. Oenophiles will appreciate the chance to try over 50 wines by the glass.
In tackling the project, the Milan-born Casiraghi, who currently works out of Paris and describes his style as “sober in terms of association, lines, and shapes, but generous in terms of materials, objects, and textures” worked to restore the façade on the peaceful Place Gaillon. The original wood fronting had been covered over in the 1980s with a gray-colored layer painted with sentences from various books and novels. Casiraghi and his team decided to strip it back and expose the “noble and original” structure that lay beneath. In doing so, the contours of two buildings that had been joined together over the years as Drouant expanded were revealed, thereby reviving a sense of historical accuracy.
Inside, a new travertine mosaic floor, hand-cut in Italy with a repeating black-marble starfish motif, was laid to set the stage for an updated Deco look. “I loved Ruhlmann before working on the Drouant project,” Casiraghi tells Galerie, “so for me it was an honor. I tried to keep this in mind with every choice, respecting what he did before us and trying to keep that memory alive while avoiding a historical reconstitution.” Both the main dining room and adjacent winter garden feature a harmonious mix of colors, materials, and light. Walnut woodwork, lacquered walls, and plush fabrics create a cohesively warm and elegant feel. The ceiling, painted by Jean Cocteau, who liked to call it “the heaven of the sea,” was left intact. A painting of the Goncourt jury that was discovered by chance during the renovation is now on display in the small room at the back, with ceilings high enough to show it off.
Modern-day frescoes by the Italian artist Roberto Ruspoli were hand-painted directly onto the walls, and the French artist Patrick Guidot created one of his “conceptual figurations” to greet guests at the entrance. The small staircase that leads directly to the upstairs private salons displays the covers of 18 Prix Goncourt–winning titles. Still, it is the dining room’s main staircase that continues to prevail. The heart of the restaurant and the site on which judges announce the annual Goncourt and Renaudot winners, Ruhlmann’s stately staircase was conserved in its original form but magnified by the addition of a 330-pound crystal chandelier from the Italian Alps–based house of Faustig.
In the dining room, a combination of creams, navy blues, and buttercup yellows complement the warm woods while simultaneously calling out to the spirit of the French Riviera, which is invoked by the charming outdoor fountain on the Place Gaillon–facing terrace. The menus were printed with Riviera-style stripes to continue the theme, while the tables represent best-of brands in terms of French dining: cutlery by Christofle, dinnerware by Bernardaud. Art Deco touches stretch into the door handles themselves, which were first designed by Ruhlmann and are still produced by Fontaine, Europe’s oldest artistic locksmith. “Art Deco was a real revolution,” Casiraghi points out. “To me, it is the first time in history when decoration meets functionality without inhibitions. An object or a space can be modern and functional even if decorated in every detail.” The sconces are by Woka Lamps, the Viennese manufacturer famous for its early-20th-century collaborations with the likes of Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann.
Casiraghi was able to bring back to life another original Ruhlmann design element in the form of the chairs, aptly named the Drouant. “We launched a bespoke production for the restaurant with Rosello,” Casiraghi explains. After discovering the original design in Ruhlmann’s archives, the designer’s team found a prototype of the chair at the Chambre de Commerce de Paris. They called on students from the École Boulle to submit construction drawings, and the plans were passed to Rosello for final production, where they were finished in a bright-yellow fabric by Pierre Frey. The tables and benches were designed by Casiraghi himself and produced by Rosello as well.
“It was hard, at the beginning, to think of how to link literature with the project,” Casiraghi reflects. “The risk was to be too didactic and to lose the sophistication of the decor. In the end, I think that the result is very interesting because we decided to recall the literature theme through accents—the collections of Prix Goncourt winners, the Roberto Ruspoli decor with hand and papers.” He also shares his thoughts on a favorite corner to call home now that the new Drouant is complete: “The winter garden on the right is one of the best places to have a table, with its spectacular view of the staircase,” he says. And what to order? “I always eat the same thing, even though the menu is all great: pâté en croûte and filet de boeuf.”