To see the cool side of Paris, see Mama Shelter. Forget the Eiffel Tower and ignore the Champs Elysees. The young, the weird and the beautiful wine, dine and, er, rendezvous here in the 20th – arrondissement and they make no apology for it.
Let’s start with the rooms. No, before that the lifts, decked out in black with white words raging across. No mention of La Vie en Rose around here. Instead text like blood, women, mouth, egg blaze into your retina and it becomes obvious that things are a little different around here.
The theme continues along the corridor, with word upon word swirling across the back carpet in the darkness.
Then the room itself, barely lit by a couple of bedside lamps with detachable Batman and Obelisk face masks. (A photoshoot playing out in the bar downstairs demonstrated just what they thought I should be doing with them. And it wasn’t an activity for one.)
For all the fancy design, though, the basics were still there: duvet, pillows, hot water, shower. There was even free wifi (plus an apple TV gadget complete with keyboard to use if you fancied) and a range of free movies to distract your attention away from the bare concrete walls.
The real piece de la resistance was the restaurant downstairs. Not the pizzeria (by all accounts excellent) with its traditional chequered tablecloths and fresh, heaven-smelling oven.
No, the restaurant further back, a Philippe Starck creation. This place takes the “less is more “approach to lighting, feeds it steroids for months on end, dopes it with EPO and sets up a string of blood transfusions until the point where you can’t see a thing and you’re in danger of losing your footing as well as your metaphor.
Only the staff seem to know what they’re doing and whom they’re doing it with in the darkness.
Slowly, my eyesight recovered to reveal a few telling details. Illuminated swimming aids hanging from the ceiling. Eclectic yellow chairs. And a line of waiters stroking each other’s hair. I couldn’t quite decide whether this was part of the performance or whether I’d caught an inter-staff relationship blossoming beneath the gloom.
Away from the drama, though, the food was divine, with Mama providing some comforting Parisian staples (think oysters in shallot vinegar and bloody steak with crisp straw frites.) Yet astonishingly, and refreshingly, Mama also offers up experiences from further afield. (One waiter recommended Japanese whiskey over cognac as a digestif. #somethinglikethathasneverhappenedbeforeinFrance.)
All in all, Mama Shelter walks the uber-cool line in terms of both design and staff, and it’s a tough line to tread. While the reception staff were flawless, the breakfast team pushd that attitude a little too far. You have to be ready to stand up for yourself.
Then again, this is Paris. And, with a shrug of the shoulders, it’s not really designed for the shy, retiring type.
What I loved
-The surprise factor. It’s good to see something different when you travel.
-The funky, detailed maps introducing the 20th arrondissement amid a sea of black on a page
-The i-gadgets and film choices
-The cocktails – from Old Fashioned to Kool and the Gang
– The in-room microwaves. Not sure why you’d need one but good to know they’re there.
Things to Know
– There’s no help with luggage nor help with the steps on arrival.
– Get to breakfast early. It closes fifteen minutes before it should.
– Avoid if flashing lights, masks and other such paraphernalia are likely to keep you awake at night
– There’s no room service
– You’ll need to travel to reach central Paris – but then again the 20th shows you the city’s unusual side and has plenty to keep you entertained.
172 rooms with a 24″ iMac with TV, radio, web and free wifi
Doubles start at a very reasonable 89 Euros but rooms are hip-squeezingly on the small side. Splash out into the luxe rooms if you can and if you really want a wild weekend – check out the suite for 299 Euros. Eye-popping design.
Disclosure – I paid a reduced rate to stay at Mama Shelter Paris for review purposes. As ever, editorial control remains mine all mine. No mask required.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com