Pour One Out: Cannes Says “Au Revoir” to a Bartending Legend

For the past 40 Cannes Film Festivals, Alexandre has been putting on a show.

As the head bartender at the Mondrian Cannes — the établissement formerly known as The Grand — he’s been mixing cocktails and charming post-premiere revelers since 1983. Alexandre — it’s always “Alexandre,” no last name, like Prince or Madonna — is, for festival regulars, as familiar and welcome a sight as Cannes’ iconic red carpet. With a tall, lean frame and sharp Gallic nose, he darts between tables like a more elegant version of Monsieur Hulot, instantly recognizable with his striking bald head and those playful eyes that spring open in delight and surprise at every new guest.

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Over the years, Alexandre has served festival grandees and Hollywood royalty. Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert De Niro. Isabella Rossellini.

He has his stories.

“Sitting right there: Tony Curtis. And there, Bo Derek,” Alexandre begins. “He goes over, they start talking: This, that, this. Next thing, they left … up to the room.”

One night, when Coppola was hosting a blow-out dinner in the Grand restaurant — a regular occurrence over the years — Alexandre spotted Geraldine Chaplin among the guests. He zipped back to the bar and put on the music from “The Flower Girl” from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.

“She was leaving and heard the music,” he recalls. “She slipped back in, came up to me and asked: ‘Was it you who put that on? Thank you. For my father.’ ”

In 1984, when Wim Wenders stopped by the Grand before the closing ceremony, Alexandre brought him a drink and complimented the then-young German director on his stylish striped shirt. “I said, ‘With a shirt like that, you are guaranteed to win the Palme d’Or,’ ” recalls Alexandre. “Then he did! [For Paris, Texas.] That night he came back, with the Palme, pointing and saying, ‘It was you!’ ”

Alexandre used the same line on Emir Kusturica a year later, when he spotted Wenders with Kusturica, smoking furiously to ward off pre-awards-ceremony nerves.

“Kusturica was wearing the same sort of shirt as Wenders had the year before, so I told him, ‘That shirt won one Palme d’Or, it will win two.’ ” Sure enough, Kusturica and his shirt collected the Palme (for When Father Was Away on Business).

The Serbian director never forgot.

“Years later, I was in the Montreal airport, changing planes, and Kusturica walked by. He screamed out, ‘Alexandre! From Cannes!’ ”

In all these years, Alexandre’s approach hasn’t changed. A bartender, in his mind, should be a host, not a salesman. “I want to welcome people into this refuge, away from all the noise and craziness of the Croisette,” he says. “Business is for New York, for Los Angeles. Not for Cannes. Cannes should be a holiday from all that. Of course, things have changed, Cannes has changed. It used to be about the cinema, now everything is about the money, money, money! I think, ‘What do you need all the money for? So you can eat more, get fat?’ ”

This just might be Alexandre’s last call. His contract is up at the end of this year and, after 40 Cannes Film Festivals, he’s not sure he’ll be back for number 41.

“It’s probably time to hand over to the next generation,” he says wistfully. “It’s a bit like the movies. The new movies are different: The stars, the music, all different. It’s fine, it’s good. But I love the old movies, where it was about class, style. My favorite film is Casablanca. Because it stars Humphrey Bogart. And he’s a bartender!”

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