Europa 1900
he name Hector Guimard is almost synonymous with Art nouveau in Paris. The first encounter of Art nouveau for many travelers takes place at the curvaceously flamboyant entrances to the Metro stations wrought in writhing green steel. The red lamps at the end of steel tendrils like orchid stalks announce rapid transportation to any corner of the city. The sign "Metropolitain" in the Guimard-designed typeface at the entrances is now ensconced into the legend of the city, as undissociable as the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur, other Parisian institutions that almost never survived their epoch. Magnificent Guimard-designed Metro entrance pavilions at certain stations (such as Bastille) have since been destroyed, and Guimard himself was not permitted to finish his designs when Paris planning authorities deemed his salary excessive, and replaced him with artisans commissioned to finish the job imitating the Guimard style. Today, the ironwork design at Metro stations essentially reflects two different patterns, one more intricate than the other. Particularly elaborate examples of stations worth visiting are the Abbesses and Porte Dauphine. Consistent with his background in ironwork, Guimard also designed the public notice signposts and public fountains scattered throughout Paris, in the same green as the Metro entrances.

uimard’s career was sprung from his revolutionary first building commission: the Castel Beranger (14 rue La Fontaine, Metro Passy, RER Radio-France). Fully embracing Victor Horta’s belief that the architect must impose a single style across every aspect of the building design process, both the façade and interiors are unified in the Guimard style. Attention was paid to every detail, including the front iron gate, the side fence, the stairwells, the entry foyer, the gargoyles, and stained glass windows. Unfortunately, this is a private residential building normally not open for public visits. Guimard’s elegant wooden furniture from the Castel Beranger can be seen in the art nouveau period room at the Musee d’Orsay, which was only assembled well after the passing of Guimard and the art nouveau movement. 

ot far from the Castel Beranger, you can enjoy a café creme at the Café Antoine (17 rue La Fontaine, closed Sundays), an unpretentious local haunt in a Guimard building. Some of the interior art nouveau furnishings appear to have been acquired recently, but it is nonetheless a splendid pause in the day and a genuine Parisian experience. Several of the buildings on the side streets in the same block as the Cafe Antoine contain Guimard creations and the street signs for rue Agar are delightful. The majority of other Guimard works flank the rue La Fontaine heading away from the centre of Paris, and they are generally private apartment buildings, so you’ll have be a bit cheeky to gain entry. Examples can be found at 11 rue Francois Millet and 122 avenue Mozart.

ne Guimard masterpiece that you can generally visit is the Hotel Mezzara (60 rue La Fontaine), owned by the French ministry of education and used as an exhibition gallery to promote the work of young artists. The upper floor and basement are occupied as student residences and not accessible to the public. Commissioned by original owner Paul Mezzara as a home to live in, Guimard succeeded in blending the exuberant elegance of art nouveau lines with the tasteful restraint demanded in a comfortable home. This is without doubt my favourite Guimard building in Paris. The expansive two storey high atrium provides the centrepiece of the house, flanked on both sides by smaller rooms now holding exhibited art. On the rear wall of the atrium, a stairwell sporting a dazzling hallmark Guimard railing snakes up to the top floor, drawing your attention to the round stained glass dome of the ceiling. The bewitchingly harmonious synthesis of air, sinuous metal, light, and colour o n a white plaster backdrop sings to the eyes, and its art nouveau boldness and sincerity of its design remain unforgettable.

few more AN apartment buildings not designed by Guimard lie across the Seine river in the 7th arrondissement, not far from Ecole militaire. The entry portal of 29 avenue Rapp is arguably the apotheosis of a great AN doorway, which no enthusiast should miss. The sensuous human figures intertwining with plants and with themselves above the doors earned architect Jules Lavirotte an international design prize in 1901. The courtyard of the nearby Square Rapp contains additional buildings in a similar style. 

he mosaic peacocks and ironwork near the glass ceiling of the Samaritaine department store (19 rue Monnaie, metro Pont-Neuf) is worth visiting. Otherwise, the best places to see AN in Paris in publicly accessible buildings are in restaurants. Most of the restaurants don’t mind if you simply have a drink there, or you can even just ask to walk through between meal services, in order to economize on meal bills. I haven’t visited the Lucas Carton or Maxim’s restaurant, both of which are reputed for high quality AN interiors (and high prices!). the 3 star Lucas Carton is the one you’d want to eat in, but reserve well in advance (9 pl de la Madeleine, metro Madeleine) to ogle the lovely woodwork. Maxim’s (3 rue Royale, metro Concorde) you visit strictly for the decor, and is designed in quintissential belle epoque style. Among less pricey choices, most frequently cited are La Fermette Marbeuf 1900 and Julien, and rightly so. De rigeur for any AN fan to reserve a table in the 1900 room of La Fermette Marbeuf (5 rue Marbeuf, metro Alma-Marceau). The ceramic mosaics and breathtaking stained glass panels, backlit by natural light and lamps, constitute what I consider the most beautiful AN room I have ever seen, and possibly the most beautiful room, period. The designer remains unknown, and the full restoration of the room only occurred in the 1990s when missing panels were discovered behind the walls and in private collections. For gilt-to-the-hilt ornate dining, Julien (16 rue Faubourg St-Denis, metro Strasbourg St-Denis) is your best bet. The most striking features are the floral portraits of Mucha-style women symbolizing the four seasons, but the entire mirrored and chandeliered dining room is a visual festival. The late night post theatre special served after 1030 pm is good value. Other Right Bank restaurants of note are Le Grand Café (4 bd des Capucines, metro Opera), Le Pharamond (24 rue de la Grande Truanderie, metro/RER Les Halles), and near the Bastille, the rundown Bistrot du Peintre (116 av Ledru-Rollin, metro Ledru-Rollin) attracts local clientele and still maintains its charms, and the glass dome of the Brasserie Bofinger (5 rue de la Bastille, metro Bastille) is worth a peek over a plate of one of their seriously tasty seafood dishes.

cross the river in the Latin quarter, several restaurants featuring AN decor are available. My favourite decor of the bunch is the Bouillon Racine (3 rue Racine, Metro Cluny, RER St-Michel), especially the upper floor. The tree branch-like chairs and colourful mosaics leave a lasting impression. The Vagenende (142 bd Saint-Germain, metro Mabillon or Odeon) is a bit dark in lighting for my tastes but pleasant enough. Le Petit Zinc (11 rue Saint-Benoit, metro Saint-Germain des Prés) serves up a tasty facade and tasty dishes but its tiny portions make for an expensive meal. Le Relais Odéon (132 bd Saint-Germain, metro Odéon) is a brasserie style café ideal for a midday sandwich. Further away from the Seine, the Montparnasse 1900 (59 bd Montparnasse, metro Montparnasse) across the boulevard from the tower has changed hands many times in its history and the current incarnation is an agreeable place, if still overlit like its predecessors.