Wet Paint Goes to Basel, Where We Were Tattooed by David Mugrabi, Fleeced for Drinks, and Appalled by the Beds at Les Trois Rois

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Over the past three days, I’ve spent an estimated 16 hours lingering at Les Trois Rois. Mind you, that’s two full work days by American standards, and believe me when I say that I have treated this time as such. I’d like to paint a picture of what those hours have looked like from the perspective of a “Basel virgin,” as many have so charmingly described me this week.  

The crowd: Of course there are the art market rockstars, like Adam Lindemann, Loic Gouzer, Sophia Cohen, Lucas Zwirner, and Dominique Lévy, the sought-after artists like Outtara Watts, Wim Delvoye, and Lauren Quin, and about thirty different Gagosian power players. Someone also pointed out to me a scene almost directly out of White Lotus‘s second season, as two, er,  came into the bar dressed nearly identically to Mia and Lucia, if you catch my drift. 

Anyhow, I have never had so much fun asking the simple question, “So where do you live?” than on the patio of the Trois Rois. Among this class of people, most can’t give a straight response.  I should have timed some of these answers. For instance: “Well, I’m in Zürich mainly, but my girlfriend lives in Lausanne, so I spend a lot of time there. Although, I work in Prague and keep an apartment there, and I have a house in Tuscany that I stay at during the summer. I just got back from a long stint in New York, and actually closed on an apartment there.” How’s that for an answer? Dizzy yet? 

The advice: One of the most useful conversations I had in the bar was with Kendra Jayne Patrick and her Swiss-born partner, Ernst Fischer. This guy had insight that I didn’t know I needed. That morning, I had woken up with a nuclear hangover, disproportionate to my alcohol consumption from the previous evening, and disoriented from a fevered sleep where I was haunted by bizarre dreams. According to Fischer, this was a direct result of my fondue consumption. “The surrealists used to eat it before bed to inspire stranger dreams,” he explained confidently. And that hangover? Apparently the salt dehydrates you, but according to Fischer, you shouldn’t drink water you’re eating fondue, only before and a while after. “You drink either schnapps or hot tea while eating your fondue,” he said. “Otherwise, the cheese will stick together in your stomach, and you won’t be able to digest it.” Words of wisdom! 

The actual digs: There’s so much allure around the fabled hotel, I was thrilled that Chloe Wise (whose show at Parcours is a  miss) invited me up to check out the room she’d inherited from a friend who left early. Getting into the bar was no joke, so setting foot in one of the rooms that can cost up to $5,000 a night and requires years of foresight to book felt like getting access to the crown jewels. So you can imagine my confusion to find that a bed in the most sought-after hotel is just two twin beds squished together, and nary a decorative pillow to speak of. I love to poke holes in the pomp and circumstance of hyper-exclusive spaces, so, behold a hastily snapped visual aid:  

For my friends who might feel envy for those who carry an engraved keycard, imagine getting a crick in your neck from a night sleeping on this for the price of a few months’ rent.

The goss: Speaking of those key cards, here’s a fun anecdote from this week. Monday night, Larry Gagosian threw a private party at the Trois Rois, as he is wont to do. The mega-dealer is one of many who has an outstanding reservation at the 334-year-old hotel. I think he may be getting a little too comfortable in the hotel though, as Wet Paint learned that he left his keycard in the bathroom during the party, and when another partygoer clocked his name on the card, they swiped it for themselves. Whoever took it, if you’re reading this, congratulations on securing perhaps the funniest trophy you can have in the art world. I hope you frame it. 

Prison-style tattoos at the Trois Rois with Niclas Castello (left) and David Mugrabi (right).

Oh, and some personal news: I’ve acquired two new tattoos during my time here at the Trois Rois. One late night, I ran into David Mugrabi, whom I approached with my tail between my legs due to the fact that I’ve aired his dirty laundry more than once in my column. Lucky for me, Mugrabi is one of the friendlier billionaires I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and he asked only for the chance to draw one picture of his choosing on me, as reparations for my actions. In penance, I consented. I assumed he’d go for something gauche, but no, I wound up with a heart with an arrow through it on my chest that read “D + A” that I had to scrub off during my dip in the Rhine the next morning.  

Tattoo number two came from Niclas Castello, who you might be familiar with from the viral sensation that was the 24-karat gold cube he plopped into Central Park last winter. He saw my David Wojnarowicz burning house tattoo, and decided that a cube drawn by him would be an excellent compliment. Who was I to turn that down? Write in and let me know which tattoo holds more value as an art object, as I can’t make up my mind.

To summarize: if the Trois Rois lobby bar is the Olympics of trying to get other people to buy your drinks, then call me Usain Bolt. The drinks are notoriously ludicrously expensive€32 a pop—but as my colleague Kate Brown put it when we took our first sips of a martini, “It tastes like a diamond!”

One last thing: in the most recent Wet Paint, I asked who you would cast to play the new CEO of Art Basel, Noah Horowitz, and his predecessor Marc Spiegler. The winner is Mills Morán, who suggested, so adeptly, Paulo Costanzo for Horowitz, and Michael Chiklis for Spiegler. See you next week.

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