EXPE_GROUP_Cred_Ludovic Robert
© Robert Ludovic

Masterminds: Experimental Group

These four men 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.

June 21, 2022

Once upon a time, there were three 18-year-old boys from France who organized a New Year's Eve party for their classmates. A party that proved to be unforeseeably profitable, so the three students took the winnings, tripled them at the casino and treated themselves to a meal at 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 at 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, they gained a fourth partner.

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


Of course, there were a few milestones on the way, including the opening of their first restaurant. The time had come in 2007, when the Experimental Cocktail Club opened in a small Parisian side alley. 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

While the big cities of the world were already relying on upscale mixology, the French capital was surprisingly underdeveloped when it came to trendy bars. After all, a rum and coke still passed for a cocktail back mere years ago. S the young men went to work: they taught themselves what there was to know, manned the bar, served the guests and did the clean up after closing. 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, their first hotel in 2015.

Beach, please (left): the house next to the Canale della Giudecca, lives and breathes dolce vita, whereas the interior at the Palazzo Experimental (right) by designer Dorothée Meilichzon is all about fun new ideas. © Karel Balas


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 of their the choice of location in an interview – and the results speak for themselves. Other hotel openings were quick to follow: 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.

The 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 pays homage to the history of its building, respectively, and reflects the vibe of the neighborhood within the guest rooms and the common areas. Thus, the Venetian palazzo, now celebrating its resurrection as Il Palazzo Experimental retains its original fabric. The stripes that serve as decorative elements reference 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 properties, such as the Menorca Experimental: private corners, a spa, rooms with their own plunge pools, and earthy tones are reminiscent of a Spanish artist's dream vacation. "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


French interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon is responsible for the interior at each location. Often playful, colorful, and void of specific labels, these properties carry her specific signature style. 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 bulbs to the bottles of local rarities in the minibar, he prefers to select each object personally. Aside from that, he and Xavier Padovani are 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 true gift – and also one of the group's greatest strengths. It's no secret that the Experimental Group still have a great many plans, nor is it a secret what they 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.


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 at the legendary ski resort. experimentalchalet.com

Menorca Experimental
43 rooms, nine with their own plunge pool, in arenovated 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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