“I usually go to bed early,” billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb said.
Not during Art Basel. At 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Loeb was part of the crowd at the bar of Les Trois Rois, a 334-year-old hotel overlooking the Rhine River that serves as the unofficial after-hours trading floor at this Swiss city’s annual modern and contemporary art fair.
At one table, dealer Larry Gagosian joined gallerist William Acquavella and Alberto Mugrabi, whose family owns the largest private collection of art by Andy Warhol. At another table, billionaire money manager Steven Cohen drank red wine.
“Everyone is here,” Cohen said. “The bar is fun. The rooms are kind of small.”
In the unregulated $54.1 billion art trade, relationships among gallerists, collectors and museum curators can be as important for determining prices and striking deals as the art itself.
“This is the place to be,” said Paolo Vedovi, a Brussels-based art dealer who has been staying at the hotel for more than 20 years. “People go to dinners and then everyone comes to Les Trois Rois. You see clients. You can sell art.”
While there’s only 100 rooms at the Three Kings, during the evening as many as 2,000 people have packed into its bars -- where a glass of champagne cost 30 Swiss francs ($32), according to the hotel. They included Sam Keller, director of the Fondation Beyeler, and artist Marlene Dumas.
The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is located a short tram ride from the Messe Basel, a cavernous exhibition complex where $3.4 billion of art is for sale through June 21.
Gagosian hosted a dinner for about 200 people -- including Cohen, Lightyear Capital Chairman Don Marron and Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Campbell -- at the Three Kings on June 15.
The same evening, Lehmann Maupin gallery held a more intimate affair, honoring British artist Tracey Emin at the hotel’s library. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, sporting a thick beard and newsboy cap, roamed around.
Phillips auction house held dinners for clients three nights in a row at the hotel. Christie’s invited about 200 clients to a dinner on June 17, decorating the room with paintings by Picasso, Francis Bacon and Yves Klein, estimated to tally more than 23.5 million pounds ($37.4 million) at its London auctions later this month.
“A third of the deals during Art Basel are done on the terrace of the Three Kings,” said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas.
Established in 1681, the Three Kings is one of the oldest luxury hotels in Europe. Its guests have included most European royals, Pablo Picasso and the Rolling Stones.
The art world elite staying at the hotel includes Cohen, auctioneer Simon de Pury and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the Spanish artist’s grandson.
“It’s cool, beautiful and elegant,” said Sabine de Gunzburg, a Paris-based collector and rug designer who’s been staying at the same junior suite facing the river for 13 years. “It’s good for connections.”
Scoring a room isn’t easy. Collector Jean Pigozzi has been unsuccessful for years.
“I finally gave up,” Pigozzi said. “It’s impossible to get a room here.”
The hotel received 3,000 reservation requests for Art Basel, said Caroline Jenny, the head of communications. Prices range from 1,000 Swiss francs to 5,000 Swiss francs per night. The largest suite is 2,700 square feet.
“We have very big shots staying in very little rooms,” said Jenny.
San Francisco-based collector Norman Stone said he and his wife, Norah, have stayed at the hotel for 25 years.
“You don’t come every year, you lose your room,” he said.
At night, the Three Kings resembles a club, complete with bouncers, a velvet rope and lines outside. Those who get in stay late. Dumas, who has a solo exhibition at the Beyeler in Basel, was drinking white wine at 3:30 a.m.
This year the hotel lobby has been transformed into a separate bar that is an artwork itself. The Roth Bar is designed by Bjorn, Oddur and Einar Roth, the son and grandsons, respectively, of German-born artist Dieter Roth. The bar is made with scavenged wood and adorned with disco balls, crudely painted signs and other discarded items.
Hauser & Wirth gallery, which installed the Roth Bar, hosted an event for more than 400 guests, transforming a large banquet room into a makeshift manor house library.
Regulars said the hotel has become more polished -- and crowded.
“I remember ordering a vodka martini and they weren’t quite sure how to make it,” Los Angeles-based art dealer Michael Kohn said about his first visit 10 years ago. “Now it’s like Disneyland. There are lines to go on all the rides.”
Not all guests were happy about the revelry.
“I was up all night because of the bam-bam-bam downstairs,” said Kim Heirston, a New York-based art adviser. “I would like my Trois Rois a little quieter.”