Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ah! Then we'll dine at Maxim's!

The legend of Maxim's began in 1893 when Maxime Gaillard, a simple waiter, opened a bistro, small as a cork, at number 3 Rue Royale in Paris. He could have simply remained there if it wasn’t on a lucky day, a charming young Parisian, Irma de Montigny, hadn’t passed his way. Charmed and fuelled with enthusiasm by what she had discovered, she assured Maxime Gaillard: “I’m going to pop your little cork”. And she kept her promise!
She came back again and again with many of her friends, her admirers, guardians, and soon Maxime found his bistro filled with fabulous clients, the fashionable, elegant and brilliant. But, unfortunately the bills often remained unpaid and Maxime Gaillard eventually handed the keys over to Eugene Cornuché. Cornuché then went on to create the legend that Maxim’s is today.

He turned the bistro into an Art Nouveau masterpiece by calling upon the artists in vogue from the ‘School of Nancy’. But the magic card in the pocket of the maitre d’ of Maxim’s were his lovely courtesans, Cornuché was accustomed to saying : “An empty room… Never ! I always have a beauty sitting by the window, in view from the sidewalk”. And it is in this way that he received the finest elite of the French gallantry.

Jean Cocteau during a conversation in 1913 said about these wonderful evenings: “I dined with Otéro and Cavalieri at Maxim’s, it was an accumulation of velvet, lace, ribbons, diamonds and what all else I couldn’t describe”, he continued, “to undress one of these women is like an outing that necessitates three weeks advance notice, it’s like moving house”.

Crowned heads, the wealthy and great names from all over Paris crossed paths at Maxim’s at the turn of the century : Edouard VII, Boniface de Castellane, Marcel Proust, Ernest Feydeau who wrote “The Lady of Maxims”, Mistinguett who sang “My Man”,the exquisite Yvonne Printemps, Sacha Guitry with his lovely spirit and temperament, Tristan Bernard, Greta Garbo, Marlène Dietrich… all made the evenings delightful.
However the most ostentatious period remains the decade of the 1950’s. Every evening influential people like Onassis,La Callas, the Windsors, Martine Carol, the playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, film director Max Ophuls, the fabulously rich heiress of the Woolworth store chain, Barbara Huton, who was married to Cary Grant, and the rest of Hollywood dined on the banquettes in the great salon.

The very banquettes which would, years later, reveal a treasure chest when they were changed at the end of the 1950’s. The workmen who were in charge of dismounting them were dumbfounded when they discovered, trapped down between the cushions and the wooden base, gold coins, rings, diamonds, rubies, that had slipped out of the pockets of the wealthy at the turn of the century. Those affluent customers never even made the effort to dig the gems out knowing that the next day they would easily double their loss! In the seventies, Brigitte Bardot would create a scandal when she entered the restaurant with bare feet. Sylvie Vartan danced with John Travolta, one could spot Jeanne Moreau, Barbara Streisand, Barbara Hendrix, Kiri te Kanawa or Pierre Cardin.

One evening in 1981, Maxim's owners, Mister and Mrs Vaudable, pleasantly invited Pierre Cardin to dine with them. During the meal, they proposed that Pierre should buy their restaurant without further ado. It seemed that the following day, they were going to sell the restaurant to a rich Asian and they were very upset at the idea that Maxim's would be held in foreign hands.

Pierre Cardin, slightly tipsy by the end of the evening, listened to their plea and then agreed.The following day, he honoured his word and signed. From the 1980’s on, Pierre Cardin gave Maxim's a brilliant and new international radiance.

He multiplied the number of events and organised evenings for the young. But in the end, his greatest decision was to create an Art Nouveau museum on three floors of the building and to install an authentic 1900 cabaret which he filled each night with songs from the turn of the century and the recited history of Maxim's of Paris.
Maxim's will remain a legend of former times and of today. For proof, in 1992 on the night before Christmas, the room was packed, a table was reserved for an Arabian emirate and his family for a late night dinner. The emirate arrived, protected by two bodyguards, they carried with them a small bag which they refused to leave with the cloakroom.
Then at midnight, the twelve strokes of the clock began to sound - and on the twelfth, the emirate rose and made a sign : the two bodyguards brought over the bag to him, the emirate opened it and spilled out watches covered with diamonds, bracelets, earrings, a river of jewels onto the table, like in the ‘Thousand and One Nights’, and then distributed them as gifts to all who were present in the room. ..... At Maxim’s, fairy tales still exist.

Bisou Mon Amis!
All info via Maxim's de Paris official site
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  1. I love Maxim's...the legend, the glamour! Thanks for this beautiful post!

  2. Love this post!!!! It is so great to get such a dose of the history and background of this lovely place. I walked past Maxim's a gazillion times but sadly have never dined there.
    There's always next time!

  3. Nice article - I love Maxim's! But I think you should add more info on the owners before Pierre Cadin (the Vaudables), I was told Maxim's earned its prestigious reputation thanks to them and that they were a very important family, interesting stuff!

    Alie (Chicago)

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