One of France’s Most Historic Literary Bars Just Got a Modern Makeover—Here’s a Look Inside

In 1925, Mr. and Mrs. Lost Generation, a.k.a. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, left Paris for France’s southeastern coast. Their destination: Villa Saint-Louis, a ramshackle mansion on the rocky Cap d’Antibes. Scott worked on drafts of “Tender is the Night” by day, and evenings were Champagne-fueled bacchanals. Friends and glitterati followed.

But by 1929, the Fitzgeralds were gone and that worse-for-wear mansion was transformed into the Belles Rives Hotel, now in its fourth generation.

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“There’s less and less family business on the Riviera,” Antoine Estène-Chauvin, who runs the hotel with his mother, Marianne, told Robb Report. “We’re one of the last.”

In April, the family reopened the heart of the five-star hotel, Piano Bar Fitzgerald, following two years of work and an $800,000 outlay. Zelda and Scott used to listen to their gramophone in this nook of the hotel, and a countless number of celebrities have partied here over the last century. The literary and historic importance of the bar, a member of the Cafés Historiques et Patrimoniaux d’Europe, meant it was one of the last pieces of the hotel to be revamped.

The Bar Fitzgerald at Belles Rives
Deco motifs accent the refreshed bar room where the ivories are still being tinkled.

“We had to convince ourselves to do it,” said Estène-Chauvin.

And he means ourselves, because they kept the design in-house, a process led by Marianne.

Her team focused on modernizing the space by changing the layout. The bar, once tucked away in a corner, is now the focal point of the room, with brass Art Deco motifs decorating its base. The thick carpets have been replaced by a gleaming hardwood floor, and leather chairs have been reupholstered in textiles from Osborne & Little.

From behind the marble-topped counter, illuminated by hanging gold lights, suave bartenders mix cocktails and serve food from Chef Aurélien Véquaud’s new bar menu, which includes everything from grilled bream to burgers (a tip for the sweet tooth: order pastry chef Steve Moracchini’s “meter of treats”).

Once painted in shades of yellow and crimson, the whole room has been repainted white, and the wooden blinds removed from the bay windows, bathing the space in light. The result is a brighter, airier, more-welcoming bar.

A cocktail at Bar Fiztgerald
The Safran Smash is the chef’s favorite on a menu that pay homage to the Fitzgeralds.

But some of its most important elements have remained untouched. The famous red chandeliers, a hand-painted mural of the Cap d’Antibes, and the cylindrical, glass-topped Art Deco coffee tables are the same as they ever were.

The roughly $28 cocktails also have a timeless feel. A “Sparkling Scott” hits the right note with Champagne Bauchet, rose, lime, and raspberry. But le cocktails favori de nos chefs is the Safran Smash with Gin Bombay, honey, thyme, saffron, lime, and pineapple.

The renovation puts the bar in line with the rest of the refreshed 43-room hotel, known for its aforementioned Michelin-starred chef and world-class spa treatments.

A room at Belles Rives
Rooms at the hotel sport Hermes wallpaper and a sense of playful exuberence.

Built in the quintessential Art Deco style, with wrought iron motifs and mosaics, the beachfront hotel balances luxe and cozy. In the rooms, Hermes wallpaper frames balcony windows that look out onto pine trees, the Mediterranean Sea, and the setting sun. Blenheim Bouquet Penhaligon amenities are in the marble bathrooms.

But if you want to really make a splash, leave your room: Belles Rives is where water skiing was invented, and boats take off from its dock. When you’ve had enough, it’s time to really embrace the Roaring 20s glamour of the hotel, as socialite Sara Murphy, a contemporary of the Fitzgeralds, famously did—by sunbathing in the padded lounge chairs clad only in her pearls.

High season room rates start at roughly $800 per night.

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