Parisian café

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L'Annexe, 5 Boulevard du Palais
Interior of the Café Le Dôme
Customers in a café in the Boulevard Saint-Michel
La terrasse du salon de thé "Partie de Campagne" à la cour Saint-Émilion à Bercy Village

Parisian cafés serve as a center of social and culinary life in Paris. They have been around since the 17th century in one form or another, the oldest one still in operation is "Café Procope" at 13 rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, since 1686.

Paris cafés are the meeting place, the neighborhood hub, the conversation matrix, the rendez-vous spot, the networking source, a place to relax or to refuel - the social and political pulse of the city.

The café business sometimes doubles as a “bureau de tabac”, a tobacco shop that sells a wide variety of merchandise, including metro tickets and prepaid phone cards.

Typical Paris cafés are not “coffee shops”. They generally come with a complete kitchen offering a restaurant menu with meals for any time of the day, a full bar and even a wine selection. Among the drinks customarily served are the "grande crème" (large cup of white coffee), wine by the glass, beer ("un demi" i.e. half a litre, or "une pression" i.e. a glass of draught beer), "un pastis" (made with aniseed flavour spirit), and "un espresso" (a small cup of black coffee). Drinking at the bar is cheaper than doing so at one of the tables.[1]

Paris cafés crystallize the quintessential Parisian way of sitting undisturbed for a couple of hours, delightfully watching the world go by. Some of the most recognizable Paris cafés include Café de la Paix, Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Café de la Rotonde, La Coupole, Le Fouquet's, Le Deauville, as well as a new wave represented by Café Beaubourg and Drugstore Publicis.

History[edit]

The Café de Procope in 1743

Coffee had been introduced to Paris in 1644, and the first café opened in 1672, but the institution did not become successful until the opening of Café Procope in about 1689 in rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain, close to the Comédie-Française, which had just moved to that location.[2] The café served coffee, tea, chocolate, liqueurs, ice cream and confiture in a luxurious setting. The Café Procope was frequented by Voltaire (when he was not in exile), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Diderot and D’Alembert.[3] Cafés became important centers for exchanging news, rumors and ideas, often more reliable than the newspapers of the day.[4] In 1723 there were about 323 cafés in Paris; by 1790 there were more than 1,800. They were places for meeting friends, and for literary and political discussion. As Hurtaut and Magny wrote in their ‘’Dictionnaire de Paris’’ in 1779: "One gets the news there, either by conversation, or by reading the newspapers. You don’t have to encounter anyone with bad morals, no loud persons, no soldiers, no domestics, no one who could trouble the tranquility of society."[5] Women rarely entered cafés, but women of the nobility sometimes stopped their carriages outside and were served inside the carriage with cups on silver platters. During the Revolution the cafés turned into centers of furious political discussion and activity, often led by members of the Revolutionary clubs.[6]

According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier there were some six or seven hundred cafés in Paris before the Revolution; they were "the ordinary refuge of the idler and the shelter of the indigent". He says that in certain cafés an academy could be found, where authors and plays were crticised. Mercier describes the serving wenches in the cafés as great flirts; they need to be virtuous because they are constantly surrounded by men. In the part of his book The Picture of Paris describing it after the Revolution he describes vividly the kind of public market in actors and actresses which occurred in Easter week at a café in the rue des Boucheries.[7]

In the period of the Restoration the café was an important social institution, not as a place to eat but as an establishment to meet friends, drink coffee, read the newspapers, play checkers and discuss politics. In the early 19th century, cafés diversified; some, called cafés-chantants, had singing; others offered concerts and dancing. During the Restoration, many of the cafés began serving ice cream.[8]

Mariana Starke, the author of travellers' guides to Europe in the early 19th century, wrote of the cafés of Paris: "Ladies are also in the habit of frequenting the Cafés where tea, coffee, chocolate, etc. are served in the morning; and coffee, liqueurs, beer, lemonade, and ices in the evening. Most of the Cafés furnish what is called a déjeuner froid à la fourchette ... Parisians ... frequently take these meat breakfasts."[9]

"There is nothing about the Paris streets which more definitely strikes the British or American visitor than the café life on the pavements ... The Paris café remains in their minds as the typical café--something so foreign that there is no equivalent for its name in the English language. The old English coffee-house was not a café in the modern sense, and it has vanished now. So is also vanishing the Paris café in its most characteristic form. There was a time when the best thought of France, in the arts and in politics, was to be found round such and such tables in such and such a café. The Frenchman's café was his club... The cafés of Paris are no longer part of her intellectual life, but they are certainly the chief feature of her streets; on pavements hardly wide enough for a honeymoon couple to walk on, a flimsy chair and an oak-grained tin table will defend against all-comers the right of every good Frenchman to enjoy upon the very streets of the loved city his Byrrh--and Frankincense."--George and Pearl Adam A Book about Paris. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927.

See also[edit]

Men playing checkers at the Café Lamblin in the Palais-Royal, by Boilly (before 1808)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morris, Elisabeth (1999) Thomas Cook Travellers Paris; 4th ed. Basingstoke: AA Publishing ISBN 0-7495-2031-0; p. 153
  2. ^ Fierro, Alfred (1996). Histoire et dictionnaire de Paris. Robert Laffont. p. 742. ISBN 2-221-07862-4. 
  3. ^ Colin Jones, Paris: Biography of a City (2004) pp. 188, 189.
  4. ^ Robert Darnton, "An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris," American Historical Review (2000) 105#1 pp 1–35 in JSTOR
  5. ^ Fierro, Alfred (1996). Histoire et dictionnaire de Paris. Robert Laffont. p. 742. ISBN 2-221-07862-4. 
  6. ^ Fierro, Alfred (1996). Histoire et dictionnaire de Paris. Robert Laffont. p. 743. ISBN 2-221-07862-4. 
  7. ^ Mercier, L. S. (1929) The Picture of Paris, before & after the Revolution; translated by Wilfrid and Emilie Jackson. London: George Routledge; pp. 17 & 163-67
  8. ^ Fierro, Alfred (1996). Histoire et dictionnaire de Paris. Robert Laffont. pp. 742=743. ISBN 2-221-07862-4. 
  9. ^ Starke, Mariana (1832) Travels in Europe for the use of Travellers on the Continent and likewise in the Island of Sicily; p. 478

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyer, Marie-France (1994) The French Café. London: Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-01622-4 (pp. 113–116 contain a list of 45 "cafés of character" in Paris, 2 in Saint-Ouen, and 8 "cafés within the great brasseries")
  • Fitch, Noël Riley (2006) The Grand Literary Cafés of Europe. London: New Holland; 160 pp
  • Fitch, Noël Riley (2005) Literary Cafés of Paris; new ed. River City Publications.
  • Fitch, Noël Riley (2007) Paris Café: Sélect Crowd. New York: Soft Skull Press; 120 pp.

External links[edit]

Media related to Cafés in Paris at Wikimedia Commons