François Auguste Guerbois was the host with the most in 19th Century Paris. His Café Guerbois was frequented by the city’s great artists and intellectuals, and when he opened a private bathhouse — Les Grands Bains Guerbois, in 1885 — it confirmed the entrepreneur’s position in Paris society during the Belle Époque. The bathhouse building, although blessed with an ever-grand Haussmannian façade, went the way of many fine Paris institutions, and by 1978 it was in a bad way. Enter two businessmen with a vision for a nightclub that would bring the glamour back. A young Philippe Starck was let loose on the interior, and Les Bains Douches was born. Guerbois’s places had boasted an impressive list of patrons, but this new incarnation raised the bar. Artists and musicians continued to flock there — Joy Division even chose the venue to record a live album — and you could barely move for A-list film stars and supermodels. New York had Studio 54, Paris had Les Bains Douches.
It’s now time for phase three of the evolution of 7 rue du Bourg l’Abbé. The name has been shortened to Les Bains, but the facilities greatly expanded. Accommodation has been added, as well as a restaurant, and the famous nightclub is back to its best. The project (that hosted street art residencies during its transformation) has been a collaboration between architects and designers Vincent Bastie, Tristan Auer and Denis Montel, beginning with a restoration of that wonderful façade and a delicately judged balance of old and new in terms of interior renovation; the much-loved black and white Starck dancefloor is one of several cherished features to remain. The layout as been reconfigured extensively, however, and there are now 39 rooms and suites which include replica sofas from Andy Warhol’s Factory among the bespoke furniture. Those with an A-list bank balance will head straight for the Les Bains Suite, which offers a Turkish steam bath among its luxurious facilities.