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Hotel Bemelmans

(Hotel Bemelmans #1)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  446 ratings  ·  59 reviews
"Ludwig Bemelmans was the original bad boy of the New York hotel/restaurant subculture," wrote Anthony Bourdain. Bemelmans also had a reporter's eye for sensory detail and a sharp wit, and his humorous autobiographical tales of behind-the-scenes kitchen life at the Ritz in 1920s and '30s New York never fail to amuse and engage. Hotel Bemelmans brilliantly evokes the kitche ...more
Hardcover, 302 pages
Published October 21st 2004 by Harry N. Abrams (first published October 10th 2002)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of memoir and good descriptive writing, pre-depression era New York
Recommended to Heather by: Apple Dippers Book Club
Shelves: biography-memoir
I am really glad that I read this for book club. I probably would not have picked it up otherwise. I gave it four stars for Bemelmans' descriptive passages. Here's one of my favorites descriptions of a waiter that has dreams of becoming a boxer and is very fastidious in caring for his boxer's physique: "He has immaculate linen, fine muscles, and he brings his chest out of the shower as if it were a glass case full of jewels." Another one I liked was his description of a very particular restauran ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food, memoir
It was the great Anthony Bourdain's recommendation that inspired me to seek this out and read it. It's a memoir from the fellow best known as the author of the Madeleine books. Well, a memoir of sorts, but probably the "non-fiction" tag can be applied with a pinch of salt, given the outlandish yarns found in this florilegium. It's a collection of sybaritic scenes and larger than life characters in the great Ritz Carlton where Bemelmans found himself after being sent to America for, depending on ...more
Mike Battaglia
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love used books stores. I could never describe them with the magical, fairy tale whimsy of Bradbury, but, aside from that wonderfully addicting aroma of well worn pages that permeates used bookstores, lulling you into a sort of trance, it's because I find books like this that I love them.

Having worked in hospitality a long time, finding this book was like Christmas. With an introduction by Anthony Bourdain, Hotel Bemelmans is a scratch collection of the kinds of stories that are told behind th
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was very curious about this adult book written by the author of the Madeline books. However, after reading it, I sadly have to conclude I wouldn’t have been that interested in it without that author connection. It wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was a series of mildly funny. behind-the-scenes vignettes about working in the hotel industry in New York City. The hotel is ostensibly loosely disguised as the Ritz, where Bemelman himself had worked after coming to America at the age of 16 from Austr ...more
Bradley Morgan
Mar 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Most famously known as the author of the "Madeline" children's book series, Ludwig Bemelmans was also a famous gourmet hotelier and restaurateur. Set during the 1920s and '30s, Bemelmans offers funny and slightly embellished takes on the cynical world of the hotel and service industries. The 24 semi-autobiographical short stories follow Bemelmans life as a troubled youth in Austria to traveling to America sweating away in kitchens while working towards being one of the greatest culinary personal ...more
I always enjoying getting to read a "grown-up" work by a children's author. Bemelmans (famous for the Madeline series) is far from the kind and benevolent figure that I would have envisioned for Madeline's creator (I can much more likely envision him creating Eloise - the little girl who lives in the Plaza). He is a man who has lived a precarious life all over the world (mostly in hotels) and in each locale truly having adventures. These memoirs highlight the years that he spent working in hotel ...more
I originally received this book as a gift when I was going through a serious foodie phase of my life. Back then I had a hard time getting into it because it really wasn't about food at all; but now that I've distanced myself from that period I was able to read it and really appreciate it for what this book is - a humorous observation of the life of those working in the restaurant/hotel service industry during the early 20th century (Bemelmans worked for the NYC's Ritz Carlton in his late teens). ...more
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyable.

Very well-written account of Bemelmans's youth in Bavaria, his loving brewmeister grandfather, his serial expulsions from school, and his eventual niche in the world of Hotels.

Especially enjoyable are insider accounts of the "Hotel Splendide," a 5-star New York hotel in the 20s and 30s, of elaborate debutante balls, loose-lipped wall street kingpins, kitchen tomfoolery and hijinks, and the romantic lives of a string of magicians, dancers, and a wannabe boxer. Not to mentio
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charming essays about Hotel Splendide, a grand hotel in NYC, in the 20s and 30s. Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the Madeline books and spent years barely succeeding in hotel work before becoming such a famed artist. His illustrations throughout the book are worth picking this up. They say Hotel Splendide is really the Ritz, and stories, based on facts, about some of the events there--dinner for 1500, 3 orchestras, a moat contrived by the city's fire department in the ballroom, and parties that started a ...more
May 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, food
These whimsical, witty, and sophisticated essays, embellished with Bemelmans’ drawings, give Madeline fans a glimpse of the man behind the enduring picture book classics. Bemelmans writes about his tenure with the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York City which began when he was a 16-year-old European immigrant and continued intermittently for many years. We meet an assortment of colorful characters: haughty maitre d’hotels, eccentric patrons, larcenous waiters, even a magician and his trick dog. My f ...more
Bemelmans was a hell of a story teller. Highly recommend. From Good Reads: If there is such a thing as a comfort food book, Bemelmans' stories are it. His evocative tales of grand hotel life have a reporter's eye for sensory detail, yet he always manages to bathe his world and it's lovable characters in the mood of a fairytale. Meet the girl-hungry hotel Magician, Kalakobe the African cook, Mr Sigsag, Monsieur Victor, Mespoulet and an unforgettable cast of down but not yet out hotel employees. A ...more
Anna Karras
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, memoir, humor
This book made me snort on more than one occasion. Ludwig Bemelmans, who is most famous for writing the Madeline books for children. This is the story of his life as a young man. He was born in southern Germany, and was a lazy bum. His mother sent him packing to America where he finally found hi niche as an employee at the Hotel Splendide. (Which is really code for the Ritz.) Here we meet all sorts of crazy characters, and the book is mostly anecdotes about the wild goings on at the Splendide. A ...more
Jul 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Wonderful pieces about Bemelmans' working life in the world of luxury hotels (mostly a thinly disguised New YOrk Ritz Carlton) - the long hard days and nights, the impossible customers and supervisors, and the subversive ways in which the servers get their own back. Though this describes a period before the Great War, there is much that is universal and timeless about the experiences described. The wretched excesses of the Gilded Age are not so very different from those of today. With wonderful ...more
Karl Steel
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
Probably the only Bemelmans you need. I've not been thoroughly entertained by his besotted travel books like, e.g., How to Travel Incognito. Who cares? I suppose it's the thrill of the behind-the-scene of the hotel business 80 years ago. In that regard, it's like Kitchen Confidential but, you know, well-written. ...more
Jan 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2007
A pleasant narrative voice guides us through the rarefied world of New York luxury hotels created and inhabited by European immigrants (ie. French, German, Austrian, Irish.) The incidents that take place in the Splendide hotel are more often bitter than sweet, but they provide a fascinating glimpse into a young America (“The young people, men and women, were better looking, better built, more fortunate of face, than any other race in the world”) through the eyes of the impoverished Old World.
Apr 17, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Michael bought this at the Strand, because I liked Bemelmans bar so much here in the city. However, this is essentially an autobiography about Bemelmans life, and a very boring, uninteresting one at that. He seems extremely self-centered, and although he tries to relate stories about other artists and people he knew in life, it's all about how they affected him personally, on what seems to be a very superficial level. Even the stories about growing up in Austria I didn't find interesting. ...more
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this book up randomly at the book store, and extremely glad I did! I love how he grabbed my attention with just the first sentence, " I was born in a hotel in Meran, a small city in Tirol, and I spent the first years of my life in a beer garden." It was really neat to read about his travels around Europe, his grandfather the beer maker, and just life and culture back then. This is the first book I've read from him so far, but if they're all as hilarious as this one, sign me up! ...more
Jul 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was endlessly pleasant. Written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans, of Madeline fame, the vignettes in this book deliciously painted a portrait of hotel workers at a New York hotel in the thirties. It really reminded me of The Grand Budapest Hotel in the relationship between staff and guests. Staff were like ants, guests were these self-important aristocrats. Very sweet, kind of plot-less, and overall I'd absolutely recommend it. ...more
Connie Snow
Jul 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been hanging out with Ludwig Bemelmans since my Mom first read Madeline to my sister and me when we were little. He encouraged me to go live in France. He made me feel like an elegant adult when I went for cocktails at the Bemelmans Bar in NYC. Now he has me completely under his spell with this wonderfully wise and charming look at life as an employee at a posh hotel in 1920's and 1930's New York. I think Mr. Bemelmans may be my spirit animal. ...more
Dec 07, 2007 rated it did not like it
The premise for this book focused on the author's experiences of working at a large hotel in New York in the 1920s and '30s. Unfortunately, the book was a big disappointment, full of dull stories with no point. I almost put the book down several times but managed to plow through it. Maybe I expected too much. ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 maybe. There were charming sections, cute stories, and a definite sense of what it meant to be serving the wealthy in early 20th century New York. It was also slow, with none of the kitchen/culinary conflict (or blatant love of food) that I expected from a book so lauded by Bourdain.

I do love Madeleine (who couldn't?), but this fell flat for me.
I enjoyed this voyeuristic opportunity into seeing what a grand hotel was like to operate in the 1920's. Bemelmans provided insight on characters on both sides of the industry (guests and employees. Especial interested to me was that everyone working at the hotel was of european immigrant status of sorts trying to make a place for themselves in America. ...more
Barbara VA
Bemelmans is the first author that I knew the name of, I was obsessed with Madeline. Now, I read culinary memoirs and this was one of the suggested titles. More than culinary this is the story of the grand Hotel Splendide in NYC of the 20's and 30's. A fun Jeeves style telling of the goings on with a very high class clientele and staff with their own curious style. ...more
Lizzy Scott
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this view into the lives of hotel staff in the early 20th century. I liked the humour and the characters. I think what held most charm for me was the narrator's reminiscences of what, at the time, had felt like quite serious events with the calm but amused mind of later life. A gentle, funny way to spend a few days reading. ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a fun read - a thinly fictionalized account of life at the Grand Hotels of the late 19th and early 20th century, with all their pomp and splendor, told from the viewpoint of a low man on the totem-pole, a waiter's assistant. Episodic, so you can dip into this like short stories, which was how I read it. Great if you like the Gilded Age. ...more
Oct 21, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Behind the scenes of a major hotel, in the days when Manhattan was Manhattan, and not a big shopping mall. Ludwig Bemelmans goes to the kitchens and closets of a major hotel somewhere in MId-Manhattan and wrote about the underbelly of hotel service and life. Via the late 30's. Superb. ...more
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the creator of the Madeline book children's series, the creator's autobiography is remarkable and eye opening. How his writing of a Madeline's world contrasts to his propensity for working outside the law whenever able while in NYC is extremely fascinating and well-written. ...more
Nicole G.
Bemelman was the creator of the Madeleine books for children. Before that, he worked his way up in hotels in New York. With a keen eye for the eccentric customers and crazy coworkers, this book was a neat look at the other side of Bemelmans life.
"He was probably the worst waiter in the world and I had become his commis after I fell down the stairs into the main part of the dining room with eight pheasants a la Souvaroff."

Very entertaining.
Mike Gioia
Gave me a solid understanding of high-class hotel scene during the roaring 20s and the society that frequented it. The episodes in the book are always entertaining and range form touching to downright ludicrous.
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Ludwig Bemelmans was an Austrian author, an internationally known gourmand, and a writer and illustrator of children's books. He is most noted today for his Madeline books, six of which were published from 1939-1961. A seventh was discovered after his death and published posthumously in 1999. ...more

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Hotel Bemelmans (2 books)
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