France’s Experimental Group made good on its name more than a decade ago when it started turning some of Europe’s least desirable addresses—a Chinatown hole-in-the-wall in London; a graffiti-covered dive in Paris’s second arrondissement—into some of the world’s best cocktail bars. Now the company’s killer instincts and derring-do are about to disrupt another industry with a collection of modern hotels in Paris, London, Verbier, Switzerland and, later this year, Venice and the Spanish island of Minorca. Here, cofounder Pierre-Charles Cros tells us why the guys who make your favourite drinks are so well suited to make your bed, too.
How did you go from cocktail bars to hotels?
Hotels were always the goal because they are the pinnacle of hospitality. You can have all your skills under one roof, and you can take care of people 24/7. Our main skill from the first bar was putting the customer at the center. It is the same with hotels. A lot of places are designed just with efficiency in mind, but those constraints are sometimes misaligned with the customer experience. For example, when we chose the beds and linens, we tried 15 different mattresses ourselves until we found the best [from France’s Davilaine].
What do Experimental’s hotels look like?
We are not cookie-cutter—we’re not a chain—so we start every project as a blank page. We think about the whole experience and what the guest wants in a destination. For example, our hotel in Venice is for people who are more attracted to the cultural events that the city has to offer than just tourist attractions. They have seen the Grand Canal before; they’ve seen the monuments. Now they are coming for the Biennale, the architecture, the Guggenheim. The hotel is in the Dorsoduro, in a former maritime headquarters—not in San Marco. It is the area where all the locals will come for a coffee.
Are the same people who sidled up to your bars now checking in at your hotels?
Yes. We have evolved with our clientele. When we started, we were 23—we were up until 4 am drinking cocktails. Then our wine bars opened as we grew up a little. Then came the hotels. The best surprise was in Verbier, seeing our clients from our cocktail bars come with their families 10 years later.
How have modern travellers evolved?
Young, successful people don’t care so much about status. They don’t necessarily want a suite or a butler. They want to make sure they can connect. The hotel is the first place that they are going to connect with people. Also what has changed is that businesspeople don’t want to be in a business hotel. They don’t want an office with a bed. They want somewhere fun where they can relax. The lines between business and pleasure are blurred now.
Most important question: What kind of drinks can we get in Experimental’s hotels?
We’re curating all our cocktail menus and minibars to reflect their locality. So, in Verbier, you’ll find Swiss vodka and abricotine, a local liqueur that is made around the corner from the hotel. We’ll also have bottled cocktails that change every couple of months, like a Negroni à la Vieille Prune, which is Campari, sweet vermouth, and prune liqueur from the canton of Valais.