Over the past several years, Maxim’s has become best known as a gourmet food brand, the name emblazoned on chocolate bonbons, Champagne bottles, and foie gras sold in French airports and souvenir shops. But for decades it was among the most famous restaurants in Paris and therefore the world, a historic Art Nouveau monument that hosted legendary fêtes for everyone from Marcel Proust and Greta Garbo to Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand. Not surprising, then, that its recent reopening under the direction of French hospitality group Paris Society has been hotly anticipated, particularly with founder Laurent de Gourcuff vowing to “revive the Maxim’s myth, perpetuate the legend, and restore its prestige.”
That’s no small task. “It’s one of the most mythical, most symbolic restaurants of Paris,” says Nicolas d’Estienne d’Orves, a French writer who specializes in, among other subjects, Parisian culture and history. Opened in 1893 by a former waiter, Maxime Gaillard, steps from Place de la Concorde at 3 rue Royale, the restaurant quickly became a society epicenter and remained a place to see and be seen from the heady days of the Belle Epoque all the way through the swinging ’70s, when it achieved three Michelin stars and was the spot where Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall went in search of an authentic Parisian soirée.
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From those substantial heights, the fall was gradual: Nightlife focus shifted and the restaurant grew outdated, lost its Michelin rating, and eventually transformed into a souvenir brand for tourists. But in the local imagination, Maxim’s was never obsolete, and Paris Society’s approach was to refurbish the restaurant’s past glory down to the smallest detail. Inside, guests are transported back to the age of Bernhardt and Cézanne with red velvet banquettes, stained glass, frescoes, and bronze and copper ornaments in allegorical floral and feminine motifs. The menu likewise revisits French culinary classics such as frogs’ legs with parsley, roast chicken for two, and cheese soufflé; Crêpes Suzette and chocolate mousse come courtesy of celebrity pastry chef Yann Couvreur.
“They’ve completely reinvented it, but the decor and spirit are exactly the same,” says d’Estienne d’Orves, and Maxim’s evokes a scene from a bygone era, with crooners in vintage dress singing “La Vie en Rose” and bartenders mixing cocktails with names like the Streisand, a potent mix of gin, cherry and botanical liqueurs, sugared lime peels, and pomelo cordial. Considering its opulence and location near palace hotels and the Champs-Élysées, to say nothing of its history and local fame, d’Estienne d’Orves suggests the reopening isn’t about chasing Michelin stars as much as giving the beautiful people a new playground: Expect it to become the next hot spot for Paris Fashion Week, for instance, and to be rented out by celebrities and the jet set for private parties, just as it was in its heyday. “It’s a historical monument of Parisian life,” d’Estienne d’Orves says, and who wouldn’t want to time-travel back there for an evening?
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