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Can Maxim’s Restaurant in Paris Reclaim It’s Cool After 130 Years?

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Anya Firestone’s job as a luxury tour guide in Paris has brought her to many rarefied corners of the city. But only recently did she do something that countless locals and visitors have done over the last 130 years: Book a reservation at Maxim’s, the storied French restaurant that opened in 1893 and has counted Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Margrethe II of Denmark, Jean Cocteau, Jane Birkin and Man Ray among its patrons.

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

Ms. Firestone, who has lived in Paris off and on since 2010, hadn’t tried to dine there sooner because the restaurant fell “off my radar,” she said, partly because she wasn’t aware if it was still functioning as a restaurant. She was not alone in that perception.

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

The focus at Maxim’s in recent years had shifted to private events, Mr. Pelegry said, and for a while it was open to diners only from Wednesdays through Saturdays. 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 entangled in a battle over his estate.)

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

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

Over the decades Maxim’s has been recognized for its food — it once had three Michelin stars — as well as for its interiors, which include bronze elements, velvet upholstery, stained glass and other details characteristic of the Art Nouveau style that became popular after the restaurant first 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 historical landmark by the French government. Cordélia de Castellane, the artistic adviser at Paris Society tasked with refreshing Maxim’s look, said that the designation gave the restaurant’s new operator little chance to change its appearance. But she was largely OK with that: When she was asked to help with the hospitality group’s takeover, she recalled thinking, “I’ll take the job, but I’m not touching anything!”

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

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

After Mr. Cardin bought Maxim’s, it started functioning as a brand: New locations were opened in New York and around the world, some of which have since closed, and the restaurant’s name began appearing on products including luggage and kitchenware.

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

In the 1970s, Ms. Lear often ate at the restaurant with Salvador Dalí. “Each guest had to pass in front of his table when entering the room and of course they stopped by to salute,” she said.

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

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

“Hopefully they will resurrect it,” she said. “But I am not sure that the rock stars and the Kardashians of today will succeed to bring back the glamour of this historical place.”

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