Thursday, February 22

Can Maxim’s restaurant in Paris regain its freshness after 130 years?

Anya Firestone’s work as a luxury tour guide in Paris has taken her to many rarefied corners of the city. But only recently did he do something countless locals and visitors have done over the past 130 years: make a reservation at Maxim’s, the historic French restaurant that opened in 1893 and has featured Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Margrethe II of Denmark, Jean Cocteau, Jane Birkin and Man Ray among his patrons.

“The place was packed,” Ms. Firestone, 35, said of the night she ate there in late November. “There was power – Maxim’s ghosts are probably happy.

Ms. Firestone, who has lived in Paris on and off since 2010, hadn’t tried dining there before because the restaurant was “off my radar,” she said, partly because she wasn’t aware whether it still operated as a restaurant. restaurant. She wasn’t alone in that perception.

“Many people, even most, didn’t realize it was open as a restaurant,” said Pierre Pelegry, a director of Maxim’s who worked there for 27 years and was hired by Pierre Cardin, the French designer, after he bought the restaurant in 1981.

In recent years the focus at Maxim’s has shifted to private events, Pelegry said, and for a while it was open to diners only Wednesday through Saturday. It resumed daily bookings in November, two months after the Paris Society, a French hospitality group, took over operations as part of a deal with the Cardin family. (Mr. Cardin died in 2020; his heirs have since been embroiled in a battle over his estate.)

The three-story space, which has a small stage on the ground floor, has long been a favorite of the fashion set. Fendi plans to hold an event there during Paris Fashion Week this month, and last year Maxim hosted parties hosted by Valentino and Dior. Alexa Buckley Roussel, a shoe designer, and Alexandre Roussel, whose father is a fashion executive, hosted the welcome party for their wedding at the restaurant in September.

“Maxim transports you,” said Ms. Buckley Roussel, 32, “and we wanted to give our guests real immersion.”

Over the decades Maxim’s has been recognized for its food – it once had three Michelin stars – as well as its interiors, which include bronze features, velvet upholstery, stained glass and other details characteristic of the Art Nouveau style that became popular after the restaurant. opened in the late 1800s. The space has been used as a location for films, including “Gigi” and the 1952 version of “Moulin Rouge,” and for Vogue photo shoots.

In 1979, its interior was designated a historic landmark by the French government. Cordélia de Castellane, the Paris Society’s artistic advisor tasked with refreshing Maxim’s look, said the designation gives the restaurant’s new operator little chance to change its appearance. But she largely agreed: When she was asked to help with the takeover of the hospitality group, she recalled thinking, “I’ll take the job, but I won’t touch anything!”

Ms. de Castellane, 42, who is also artistic director of Dior’s children’s and home lines, said her “small interventions” at Maxim included new floral upholstery for the banquettes and changing the shades of the table lamps from a reddish hue to a pinkish hue.

She also changed the restaurant’s logo, which under Mr. Cardin’s ownership had become a stylized M that she said looked “too much” like McDonald’s golden arches.

After Mr. Cardin bought Maxim’s, it began to function as a brand: New locations opened in New York and around the world, some of which have since closed, and the restaurant’s name began appearing on products, including including suitcases and kitchen utensils.

Amanda Lear, a Parisian model and singer who once wrote gossip columns for British publications, said in an email that Maxim’s has “lost its magic” because of these efforts to grow the business.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Lear often ate at restaurants with Salvador Dalí. “Every guest had to pass her table when she entered the room and of course she would stop to say hello,” she said.

More recently, she went there to perform at the Dior event held last year, where she sang “Fashion Pack,” a record single released in 1979. Its lyrics include the line “In Paris go and be seen by Maxim.”

Ms. Lear was cautiously optimistic about the restaurant’s new manager and the next chapter.

“We hope they resurrect it,” he said. “But I’m not sure that today’s rock stars and Kardashians will be able to bring back the glamor of this historic place.”