The city of Cognac is located in the wine region of the same name. Photographer and creator of the journal Fusées, Benoît Guenot has crisscrossed the city, capturing its dual time-scale: majestic and time-honored on the one hand; vibrant, fleeting, and in keeping with the times on the other hand.
Far from being in opposition, these two temporalities are harmonized in Cognac. Passed down by history, places such as cellars, docks, and industrial workshops have been given a new lease of life. Major houses, established bartenders, and young chefs have appropriated them. Together, they perpetuate history while inventing new ways at the same time. They perpetuate expertise, traditions, and a certain frame of mind. And they invent new ways of producing, new ways of living, and new ways of meeting.
From Quais Hennessy to the Martell Foundation, Bar Louise, Bar Luciole, Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa, buildings of the Meukow house, and the Poulpette restaurant, Benoît Guenot visited places during his journey which are certainly very different, but which all involve creativity on behalf of an architect, artist, or artisan.
I. In 1994, Maison Hennessy assigned Jean-Michel Wilmotte to restructure the Quais Hennessy, i.e. the docks running alongside the Charente River. The project was delivered in 1996 and included two parts: an existing pavilion and an extension to be built on the site of an old bottle-washing station. The architect-designer made sure to respect the materials and dimensions of the surrounding buildings, but added some new elements: a stone base, glass cladding, and copper roofing. Today, the building contains a shop, as well as reception, exhibition, and tasting rooms.
Quai Richard Hennessy 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 45 35 69 00 – lesvisites.hennessy.com
II. “I arrived in Cognac five years ago with an idea in mind of an avant-garde, visionary place. Customers come from all over the world – New York, London, Sydney, Shanghai and Singapore – including many bartenders, some of whom are among the best in the world. Between VS, VSOP, and XO, Cognac is itself the best product in the world. We aim to continue these high standards while innovating. For example, we tried ageing a Sidecar for two or three months in barrel before pouring it into a demijohn. The cocktail develops oaky notes and we use verjuice, another local product, to preserve acidity.” Germain Canto runs Bar Louise, a cocktail bar that breaks the mould by prioritizing local products in its cocktails.
1 place François 1er 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 17 22 31 67 – barlouise.com
III. Built in 1838, the enormous Chais Monnet site covers more than two hectares of land in the heart of Cognac. Transformed by architect Didier Poignant, it now houses a hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a brasserie, and two cocktail bars. The wooden framework, impressive vaults and original vats have been preserved while the glass walls and steel sculptures organize the space and create a natural flow. Located on the rooftop, Guinguet’ is an open-air bar open after 5 pm. The panoramic view embraces the whole city. Their flagship cocktail is the Sunset View, combining raspberry, fig, mint, Cognac, Pineau des Charentes, and sparkling wine.
Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa
50 avenue Paul Firino Martell 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 17 22 32 23 – chaismonnethotel.com
IV. This former bottling plant was built in 1928 and later decommissioned in 2005. Bordeaux-based architect Olivier Brochet retained its geometry and rugged appearance. Yet here and there, he harmonized openings, created a garden, and imagined a future for it. “Everything seems to have always been in place, but a new elegance has appeared unnoticed. Nothing seems to have changed and yet everything has changed, especially regarding possible uses for the place.” In fact, the premises, which are accessed through a 35-meter-long vaulted tunnel, are now home to the Martell Foundation. Headed by Nathalie Viot, a multidisciplinary program has been developed, combining exhibitions, artistic residencies, and creative workshops (glass, ceramics, cabinet-making, etc.).
Fondation d’entreprise Martell
16 avenue Paul Firino Martell 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 45 36 33 51 – fondationdentreprisemartell.com
V. Bar Luciole is another example of successfully re-converted architecture. Formerly a bartender at 69 Colebrooke Row (Islington, London), Guillaume Le Dorner chose to move to Cognac to transform what used to be the Auger mechanic workshop into a cocktail bar. Complete with skylights, large beams, and a courtyard, the place, which was refurbished by architects Marine Maupetit and Synné Indregard, has kept tangible traces of its previous life. Combining shadow-play, amber lights, cosy furnishings (an oak bookcase and counter, leather armchairs), and a soul-jazz soundtrack, their design choices make an impact.
14 place du Solencon 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 45 81 70 11 – bar-luciole.com
VI. Cognac boasts a long history of creativity, which is not one of accumulation, but rather a dialogue between eras. That’s why, when renovating the buildings of the Meukow brand, passionate eco-architect Pascale de Redon strived to respect the know-how of 19th-century carpenters, particularly by emulating their sizing and lifting methods. Another nod to the past is the Corten steel panther inaugurated in 2017 by sculptor Florent Poujade, inspired by the house’s coat-of-arms, which now stands in the garden.
7 rue François Porche 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 45 82 32 10 – visitemeukow.com
VII. A self-taught cook trained late in life by a fine array of Brussels-based chefs (Saburo Inada, Benjamin Laborie, Damien Bouchery, etc.), Antoine Vernouillet, a former political science student, created Poulpette in December 2015, in Cognac. Hosted by Amandine and Sylvain, the restaurant was spotted by the Fooding Guide and Gault & Millau (Young Talent award in 2017), and combines a rather cool identity with unpolished décor, an open-plan kitchen, hand-crafted wood furnishings and ceramics, plus a minimalistic daily menu/sheet composed of half a dozen suggestions.
46 avenue de Lattre de Tassigny 16100 Cognac
+33 (0)5 45 82 22 08 – poulpette.squarespace.com