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Masterminds: Experimental Group

The four men you could easily mistake for a rock band are the brains behind one of Europe's trendiest hospitality brands. They set the tone for cocktail bars, mix in restaurants, and garnish the result with extravagant hotels - and the symphony called Experimental Group is complete.

21 June 2022


Once upon a time, there were three 18-year-old boys from France. They organized a New Year's Eve party for their schoolmates. This was accidentally profitable, so the three students took the winnings, tripled them in the casino and treated themselves to a meal in a three-star restaurant. That night of partying in the late 1990s, which for most of the participants ended with nothing more than a veritable hangover, marked the start of a successful career in the hospitality sector for Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Romée De Goriainoff. Today, the Experimental Group welcomes guests in its hotels, restaurants, cocktail and wine bars as well as spas and nightclubs in Paris, New York, London, Ibiza, Menorca, Venice and Verbier - and with Xavier Padovani, it has now gained a fourth member.

Palazzo Experimental in Venice: In the trendy Dorsoduro district, the rooms and suites offer a dreamlike view of the water. ©Karel Balas

INSPIRED BY NEW YORK NIGHTLIFE

In between, of course, there were a few milestones that had to be passed, including the founding of the first own restaurant. The time had come in 2007, when the Experimental Cocktail Club opened in a small Parisian side street. As passionate fans of the craft cocktail culture they had encountered on their trips to New York, it was immediately clear to the young men what path they wanted to take with their bar concept. They focused on ingredients from small producers, uncompromising quality and seasonality. The result not only met their own standards - but also hit the zeitgeist of the Parisian party crowd.

Palazzo Experimental in Venice: The hotel's own "Ristorante Adriatica" focuses on innovation and creativity. This is evident in the interior design and on the plate. ©Karel Balas

Because while the metropolises of this world were already relying on upscale mixology, the French capital was surprisingly underdeveloped when it came to liquid enjoyment. Coke with a shot of rum still passed for a cocktail back then. The young men worked hard. They taught themselves what there was to know, stood behind the bar, did the service, and stayed after closing time to clean up. In 2010, Xavier Padovani joined them and turned the trio into a quartet. The group also continued to develop from an entrepreneurial point of view. The Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris was joined by other bars, restaurants, and finally, as a pièce de résistance, its first own hotel in 2015.

Beach feeling (left): In the house located directly on the Canale della Giudecca, Adriatic Dolce Vita also lives in the design. Design experiments (right): Interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon is behind the cheerful interior of the "Palazzo Experimental." ©Karel Balas

BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN THE HEART OF PARIS

They found their dream location for the Grand Pigalle Hôtel in the ninth arrondissement on the corner of rue Victor-Massé and rue Henry Monnier. Instead of comprehensive location analyses, the entrepreneurs relied on their gut feeling. "There has to be a strong attachment to the destination, to a place that is close to our hearts and that has character," Pierre-Charles Cros explains the choice of location in an interview - and the result proved them right. Other hotel openings followed in quick succession: the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden (2017), the Experimental Chalet Verbier (2018), the Hôtel des Grand Boulevards (2018), Il Palazzo Experimental in Venice (2019), the Menorca Experimental Hotel (2019) and the Gran Hotel Montesol in Ibiza (2021). Nevertheless, it would be wrong to speak of a chain, because the success of the Experimental Group - the owners are certain - lies in the individuality of each hotel.

Henrietta Hotel in London: Inspired by its location in the heart of Covent Garden, the city hideaway is a dream in pink and blue. ©Karel Balas

Each of them reflects the history of its building and brings the vibe of the neighbourhood inside the guest rooms and public areas. In this way, the original fabric of the Venetian palazzo, now celebrating its resurrection as Il Palazzo Experimental has been preserved. The stripes that serve as decorative elements are a reference to the history of the gondoliers, while the beautiful terrazzo floor is a nod to Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. It's a similar story with the other hotels, such as the Menorca Experimental: private corners, a spa, rooms some of which have their own plunge pools, and earth tones give the feeling of having landed in a Spanish artist's vacation dream. "We extract the personality of a place," is how Cros describes the development process - and it always starts with a blank slate.

Menorca Experimental: Surrounded by 30 hectares of land, guests relax in a 19th-century finca. ©Karel Balas

TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK

French interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon is always responsible for the interior. Often playful, colourful, and not fitting into a pigeonhole: this is the result of her work. This in turn is the result of close collaboration with Bon, Cros, De Goriainoff and Padovani. Olivier Bon in particular demonstrates his eye for detail time and again - from the light bulb to the bottles of local rarities in the minibar, he prefers to select each object personally. Otherwise, together with Xavier Padovani, he is primarily responsible for the marketing measures and social media presence of all outlets of the Experimental Group.

Experimental Beach Ibiza: overlooking the Mediterranean, guests taste fine wines curated by top sommelière Julia Oudill. ©Karel Balas

Padovani also likes to contribute his love of spirits; De Goriainoff, in turn, is considered the group's coffee and wine connoisseur. Cros is often seen in one of the kitchens working with the chefs, mainly to find out what tools might make their work easier. All four feel that working so closely with friends is a great enrichment - and also one of the group's greatest strengths. It's no secret that the Experimental Group still has a lot of plans. Nor is it a secret what it will continue to do: hotels. "We've got something going and we love what we do," Pierre- Charles Cros said recently when asked about the next steps.

HOTEL LOCATIONS OF THE EXPERIMENTAL GROUP

Grand Pigalle Hôtel, Paris
Opened in 2015 in the ninth arrondissement. grandpigalle.com

Hôtel des Grands Boulevards, Paris
50 rooms in a historic property. grandsboulevardshotel.com

Il Palazzo Experimental, Venice
32 rooms on the Canale della Giudecca. palazzoexperimental.com

Henrietta Hotel, London
Located in the middle of Covent Garden, 40 individual rooms. henriettahotel.com

Experimental Chalet, Verbier
Alpine chic in the legendary ski resort. experimentalchalet.com

Menorca Experimental
43 rooms, nine with plunge pool, in renovated finca. menorcaexperimental.com

Gran Hotel Montesol, Ibiza
33 rooms in a historic property. granhotelmontesolibiza.com

This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Spring 2022.

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