La Tour d’Argent, the Paris institution known for its pressed duck and spectacular views of the Seine, has had a makeover.
The restaurant, which traces its roots back to the 16th century, reopened on Aug. 29 after a 17-month renovation, marking its most wide-ranging overhaul since the dining room was moved to the sixth floor of the building in 1936.
André Terrail, the third-generation member of the family that has owned the Left Bank venue since 1911, tapped architect Franklin Azzi to redesign the 50-seat dining room, which has hosted luminaries ranging from President John F. Kennedy to Queen Elizabeth II, Maria Callas and Grace Kelly.
The new decor features a custom-made blue carpet by Margaux Lavevre, and a ceiling dotted with 1,270 aluminum tiles, designed to mirror the changing colors of the cityscape. A charming fresco by Antoine Carbonne, an artist who has worked with Hermès on window displays, replaces the old map of Paris on the back wall.
In an effort to make the venerable eatery more welcoming to locals, Terrail has added a ground-floor bar and a rooftop terrace, while out-of-town guests can rent a full apartment on the fifth floor.
“The Tour d’Argent before it closed was already a great experience, but now we’re taking it to the next level,” he says during an interview in his office as workers put the finishing touches to the building.
Tweaking an icon is always a delicate exercise. For Terrail, who was only 26 when he took over in 2006 from his father Claude, it means honoring the family legacy while taking bold steps to propel the restaurant into the 21st century. Chief among them: opening the kitchen headed by chef Yannick Franques.
“It’s a very big decision, but it’s consistent with who we are, because La Tour d’Argent has always been a theater. That’s how my father saw it. It was his stage. He always wanted to be an actor, so opening the kitchen to show the cooks perform makes sense,” he says.
Indeed, with its breathtaking panorama of Paris, ballet of waiters, 400-page wine list and elaborate duck carving ceremony — which involves lifting the bird with a fork without allowing it to touch the platter — the main dining room already provides plenty of entertainment.
But with a lunch menu at 150 euros, and dinner menus starting at 360 euros, the Michelin-starred restaurant has always been reserved for the happy few. In the spirit of opening its doors to a broader crowd, the family acquired the nearby Rôtisserie d’Argent in 1989 and also runs an adjoining bakery, gourmet grocery and even an ice cream truck in summer.
With the new downstairs bar, named Maillets d’Argent after his father’s former polo team, and Le Toit de la Tour, serving Champagne and cocktails on the roof, Terrail hopes to create a neighborhood haunt with a laid-back, festive atmosphere.
“If I lived in the area, I would love to come and have drinks here with friends. You could have dinner at the rotisserie, our little bistrot, and to cap it off, have a cocktail at the Tour. I think it’s the perfect night out,” he says.
Terrail has decorated the downstairs bar with wood paneling and opened its windows onto the street. On a sweltering afternoon, he personally hauled an armchair into its cozy annex, which features a chimneyplace and an array of vintage or specially commissioned furniture.
“This is my idea of a dream bar,” he enthuses. “To have a little club sandwich in the afternoon and to sit in front of a roaring fire with a glass of white wine specially selected by our head sommelier Victor González — that’s paradise on earth.”
Still, exclusivity remains at the core of the offering. The 1,600-square-foot guest suite is named after Terrail’s grandmother Augusta Burdel, who used to live on the premises, and features a dining table for private entertaining, a bedroom and a sauna — the latter a nod to Tarja Räsänen, the owner’s Finnish mother.
As might be expected, the price is available on demand. Terrail notes that his grandfather, also named André, was a famed hotelier who founded the Georges V in Paris and headed an empire that also included the Bellman and San Régis hotels, as well as caterer Potel et Chabot.
“So in a way, it’s a return to the family roots,” he says. “It’s a way of broadening the experience well beyond the gastronomic event.”
Terrail has been paving the way for the transformation for the last decade.
In 2016, he raised more than 725,000 euros by selling off some of the contents of the restaurant and its legendary wine cellar at auction house Artcurial. A silver-plated duck press, used to prepare the signature Caneton Frédéric Delair, named after the 19th century chef who invented the recipe, went for more than 40,000 euros, more than six times its high estimate.
Also included in the auction were some bottles of cognac from the 19th century that resembled archeological relics. Even after streamlining its inventory, La Tour d’Argent has 320,000 bottles in stock, with 14,000 references listed on its wine menu, which is as thick as a phone book and weighs nearly 18 pounds.
Terrail sees himself as a custodian of the family’s heritage.
“I was thrust into the business by my father,” he says. “In the beginning, I felt it was important to be humble toward this house. I needed some time to understand it and to make it my own, even if I’ve lived here my whole life. My 40s felt like the right age, the right moment, to start to shake things up and take some risks.”