For example, Venice. As a woman on a business trip, you’re often simply ignored. It’s always the same: I’m sitting at a restaurant table with a rumbling tummy. People sit down next to me, and are instantly handed the menu. But not me. When I ask for it, the waiter gives me two! menus, and turns away again. After 20 minutes, they serve up pasta to the neighbouring table, and I haven’t even placed my order. If I could I would like to say: “Does a woman always have to be accompanied by a guy to get some pasta in Venice?” But unfortunately, I don’t know enough Italian to say that.
If I’m in a foreign city in a beautiful hotel, I like treating myself to a nightcap before going to bed. I have always loved the charm of big hotel bars, and the film “Lost in Translation” just made me love them even more. Hotel bars are transit zones where complete strangers meet. It’s the luck of the draw, and sometimes the perfect pair comes together. In New York, without thinking I smiled at a man who was also drinking alone, and he immediately joined me. After about six minutes of small talk, he asked me the price for a night. I thought he meant the price for the hotel. But then the penny dropped. This time I wasn’t lost in translation because the man was an English speaker. He apologised, but I made sure to down my drink as fast as I could. Since then I always wonder whether the minibar in my room might be the less complicated alternative.
It wasn’t until I visited Le Bristol Bar in Paris that I felt in the mood again to venture outside my room. A friendly lady leads me from the lobby to the bar, takes my coat and, comfortingly, abstains from asking the clichéd question: “Are you on your own?” The bar looks as cosy as a middle-class living room. Old tapestries and art, a crackling log fire and comfy sofas. A DJ is playing relaxed lounge music. I order a Bristol Old Fashioned 5. A dry whiskey cocktail concocted from a homemade syrup of Guinness beer and caramels for a slightly sweet and smoky flavour. It isn’t long before a lone gentleman sits down two barstools away from me. When he toasts me, I expect the usual. But I am pleasantly surprised: Christophe is a Maths teacher from Paris, and the Bristol Bar is his local pub when he needs a break from his teenage pupils. He likes the laid-back, calm atmosphere, as well as the bartender. The three of us have a chat, and there’s nothing shady about it. I find out that the bar has pretty much become the district’s night-time living room – 70 percent of the guests are Parisians and not hotel guests. We go out to the spacious courtyard garden for a smoke, and sit down on the comfy garden chairs. The air is fresh and cool, two Persian cats are playing on the lawn, and the sounds of the city seem so far away. “This is my favourite place in Paris, particularly at night”, says Christophe. “Isn’t it quiet?” I nod.