If you lived in Paris during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, you may remember the Art Deco Piscine Molitor hotel in the 16th arrondissement, one of the most popular properties in the city at that time. It was opened by Olympic swimming champion and actor Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in the 1930s and 1940s. But the hotel made its name for itself for another reason; it was there that the first bikini designed by Louis Réard was debuted at the pool in 1946.
“Going to Molitor, was freedom for us, like the film that they used to show us at the cine-club! We surrendered ourselves at full throttle to our evening joy. From time to time, we came across delightful young maidens who were swimming at the same time as us,” recalled Bernard P. via the hotel’s website. “Furtive glances, a meeting of glances, the promise of the evening to come…the teachers screaming. The echoes resonate, and then a huge silence which would fall at [7 p.m.] on the dot, while we furtively got dressed and went towards the exit. The smell of chlorine fades, we go home quietly. The party is over.”
For years, the iconic hotel was the place to go for the glamorous, balls and galas were held inside its walls and the trend-setting fashion world stayed in its rooms. However, after closing its doors in 1989, the property sat, abandoned. Graffiti colored the halls that the rich and famous once walked, and drug addicts took refuge in its deserted corridors. Its grandeur days became a distant memory as it waited to one day return to its glory days.
That day finally came on May 19, 25 years later, the French hotel chain Accor purchased the property to restore it to its former beauty and prestige (about a $109 million project). Calling it just the Molitor hotel and keeping the intent behind its original structure—a cruise ship layout with portholes—the façade was repainted in a yellow-tango with blue doors and the upper level exteriors donning a crisp white coat.
Located in the center of the hotel, the 164-foot outdoor pool was outfitted with lounge chairs and remains heated at around 80 F while the 108-foot indoor pool boasts an expansive glass ceiling and offers lanes for lap swimming. It’s no wonder Réard chose this destination for his risqué bikini, a place where pleasure-seeking Parisians frequented to sun bathe. In its heyday, anyone could experience its waters, but today, only hotel guests can enter the pools.
Aside from its swimming hole, the property also includes a generous-sized fitness center and the Clarins Spa which offers steam rooms, saunas, water-inspired treatments, a hair salon, and private suites.
Covering two stories, the Molitor features 104 guestrooms and 20 suites with simple yet sleek décor designed by Jean-Philippe Nuel in shades of black, grey, and white. Inside, the walls, stone flooring, curtains and linens all come in the same shade of white, setting the tone of the room as a peaceful retreat. The sizeable porthole on the wall offers an almost voyeuristic view of the pool below that, at night, glows with a seductive blue light. Modern appliances and amenities complete the room with items such as Bose sound systems and Nespresso offerings.
A new addition to the old hotel is the The Club, a membership program that gives its members extra perks and everyday access to the property. Accepting only 1,000 people at a time, the club’s membership fees are around USD $1,625 with annual fees over USD $4,400 (sponsorship is required). As their brochure states, “Club members share common values of demand and openness of spirit.”
One of the benefits afforded its members is a table on their rooftop terrace for dining. Complements of The House of Chefs (the hotel’s restaurant), reservations can only be booked by members, otherwise seating is first come, first serve. The terrace is a hanging garden space filled with aromatic herbs, flowers and views of the Eiffel Tower. Not to worry though, non-members can still dine at the regular restaurant within the building. Crafted by Chef Yannick Alléno, the menu serves an ever-changing list of items collaborated on from esteemed chefs around France and fused with urban gastronomic creations.
More exclusive than before, we can't help but wonder if this new Molitor will live up to its past and become one of France’s most sought-after destinations. Yet, there’s a possibility that those whom once frequented the famous public pool may not be able to dip their toes in it today, an unfortunate thought for those who remember the carefree summer days of the Piscine. However, the restored structure will be ushering in a new breed of guest, ones who’ll be creating their own memories at this historic landmark.
Rooms begin at around USD $330 per night during the weekdays.