“Les Bains Douches” (roughly translated as “the bathing house”) is something of a historical landmark in Paris. Dating from 1885, this venue initially housed the most famous private thermal baths of the capital, in which many Parisians, including Marcel Proust, could often be found relaxing. But the history of “Les Bains” goes much – excuse the pun – deeper than that…
From Tub to Club
In 1978, Les Bains was given a new identity: that of a buzzing Parisian nightclub and cultural center, designed by Philippe Starck. Media moguls, supermodels and famous artists from around the world all flocked to this quirky “place to be”, situated in Paris’ hip Marais district. This baths were still operational, the floor still covered in the original tiles – it was the very epitome of shabby-chic, but that just added to its appeal. From Naomie Campbell to Mick Jagger and David Bowie, pictures of the era show to what extent the superstars loved a night at, and in, the baths. The images that best capture the decadence and heady excess represented by Les Bains, were taken by the club’s resident photographer, Foc Kan.
But, as is always the case with trends, they eventually lose their appeal in favour of a new, “cooler” place. The French DJ David Bowie and his wife bought the establishment when its reputation started waning, but could do nothing about its decline in popularity and – following a series of safety concerns about the stability of the building itself – they were forced to close up in 2010. The heady era of excess was over.
Inevitably, Les Bains fell into disrepair, but luckily was re-appropriated by an artists residency, who turned the entire disused building into a mecca for self-expression. Artwork covered every floor and wall: from scultptures and graffiti to paintings and murals, with a multitude of exciting exhibitions and performances.
Many hoped Les Bains would remain that way…
From art to…?
But everything changes and, this winter, Les Bains is reopening – again – under slick new rebranding. Playing on the appeal of intrigue, the website merely describes the renovated bathhouse as “An hybrid venue, a private house, a hotel, a club ? A chic, inventive, transcultural, bohemian, historical, elegant, welcoming venue… something new.”
If you’re coming to Paris in the near future, it may well be that the new face of Les Bains has already been revealed… Let us know if you find out – and what your opinions are!
Where is Les Bains?
7 Rue du Bourg l’Abbé
Métro: Etienne Marcel/ Arts et Metiers
For more behind-the-scenes gossip and historical information about the City of Light, try one of our tailored guided tours. Don’t miss out on our Versailles Bike Tour.