Photo: Kai Stuht for Provocateur, Berlin.
In a quiet street off Berlin’s famous Kurfürstendamm, home to luxury shops and smart cafés, the team that first made its mark with hip restaurants and bars that have them clambering to get in in Frankfurt has decided to bring a little risqué edge to the hotel offer in this part of town. Should be interesting. After all, today it’s not the bit of Berlin where the underground scene pulsates loudly and hipsters cavort conspicuously in trendy coffee shops.
But nor is it exactly unfitting: it’s this side of Berlin that the legendary decadent nightlife of the 1920s actually played out and not in what is today’s city centre. And it’s not exactly like they’re playing it down. With a name like “Provocateur”, you’re hardly going to deny that you mean to cause a stir.
Behind the decorous facade of a 1911 building typical of this well-heeled neighbourhood, a vampish world alluding to Paris of the 1920s unfolds. Dark, rich interiors with red velvet and shimmering black are framed by vaguely Art Deco touches and furnishings that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-end bordello. Naturally, it’s on purpose.
The executed design concept is the work of Saar Zafrir, the Amsterdam-based Israeli designer who has designed hotels across Europe, including a number of Amsterdam’s noted design hotels. His inspiration for the Provocateur came from a visit to Paris where it dawned on him that what makes a place’s nightlife and urban DNA legendary has far more to do with the naughty bits that the official cultural overview. The Provocateur, he decided, was going to be shamelessly saucy.
And, so it is, with its seductive bar, oozing the spirit of burlesque and unbridled desire or its 58 rooms and suites that make no apology about the fact that if you check in with the right lover, you probably won’t want to leave the room except to get drunk in the bar, eat in the restaurant and then head straight back upstairs.
Here, dizzy on champagne and oysters, lovers will find rooms rich with velvet, Art Deco fan motifs, brass fittings and black marble bathrooms in an aesthetic that channels the 1920s via the 1970s first revival of that particular decade. Think early 1970s Helmut Newton having a private room party with a clutch of Biba models while, downstairs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Bianca Jagger wax philosophical on gender politics over Harvey Wallbangers at the bar. It has that kind of vibe.
If the louche stylings of the bar and public areas complement the overall design vision, the the on-site Golden Phoenix restaurant seals the deal. It’s here that vaunted chef Duc Ngo serves up perfectly formulated Chinese-French cuisine. Vietnamese-born Ngo has had a slew of successful Asian concept restaurants—everything from a Japanese gangster-style canteen to an elegant Vietnamese restaurant named in honour of his mother. Let’s not forget that the brains behind the Gekko Group that have come up with Provocateur carved out their success with chic bars and restaurants. And this most recent variation seems entirely apt; a vague hint of 1920s Shanghai fitting perfectly into the narrative.
Going against the tide of tried ‘n tested boutique hotel branding, the other talent that’s been brought into the picture has given the Provocateur striking visuals. With images of kinky temptresses, dissipated hedonists and even the odd tranny, the stories he tells us could be unfolding within the rooms of the Provocateur would strike fear into the heart of any mainstream hotel marketing director.
Kai Stuht is known for his luscious and sensual images of celebrities and fashion and advertising campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. And, clearly he’s been even more freedom to articulate the spirit of the Provocateur than he might on some of his other projects. He certainly hasn’t held back.
Yes, we can easily check that the Provocateur has all the mod-cons we would want from a good hotel: wifi, phone, flat-screen TV, espresso machine, safe, air conditioning, rain forest shower and even some mood-enhancing special effects. But, with the Provocateur, we are also all promised interesting tales, even before we book, an intuitive and canny marketing concept that recognises that even with all the gentrification and taking its place respectably on the world business stage, even with the staid wealth that has come to epitomise this part of the city, the hedonistic legend of Berlin lives with us forever.
So why not check in and bring home your own stories. We doubt we’ll look as sexy in our selfies as the creatures Kai has conjured up. But in our memories, to quote the Bowie soundtrack of that famous Berlin cult film ‘Christiane F.’, set not too far from the location, “We could heroes. Just for one day.”
Photo: Kai Stuht for Provocateur, Berlin.