Friday, November 28, 2014

Historic Parisian Cafes

Some of the historic cafés are still thriving in their original locations, although the majority have now passed into oblivion. Glimpses of the more famous houses are to be found in the novels, poetry, and essays written by the French literati who patronized them. These first-hand accounts give insights that are sometimes stirring, often amusing, and frequently revolting—such as the assassination of St.-Fargean in Février's low-vaulted cellar café in the Palais Royal.

There is Magny's, originally the haunt of such literary men as Gautier, Taine, Saint-Victor, Turguenieff, de Goncourt, Soulie, Renan, Edmond. In recent years the old Magny's was razed, and on its site was built the modern restaurant of the same name, but in a style that has no resemblance to its predecessor. Even the name of the street has been changed, from rue Contrescarpe to the rue Mazet. Méot's, the Véry, Beauvilliers', Massé's, the Café Chartres, the Troi Fréres Provençaux, and the du Grand Commun, all situated in the Palais Royal, are cafés that figured conspicuously in the French Revolution, and are closely identified with the French stage and literature. Méot's and Massé's were the trysting places of the Royalists in the days preceding the outbreak, but welcomed the Revolutionists after they came in power. The Chartres was notorious as the gathering place of young aristocrats who escaped the guillotine, and, thus made bold, often called their like from adjoining cafés to partake in some of their plans for restoration of the empire. The Trois Fréres Provençaux, well known for its excellent and costly dinners, is mentioned by Balzac, Lord Lytton, and Alfred de Musset in some of their novels. The Café du Grand Commun appears in Rousseau's Confessions in connection with the play Devin du Village.

Among the most famous of the cafés on the Rue St. Honoré were Venua's, patronized by Robespierre and his companions of the Revolution, and perhaps the scene of the inhuman murder of Berthier and its revolting aftermath; the Mapinot, which has gone down in café history as the scene of the banquet to Archibald Alison, the 22-year-old historian; and Voisin's café, around which still cling traditions of such literary lights as Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Jules de Goncourt.

Perhaps the boulevard des Italiens had, and still has, more fashionable cafés than any other section of the French capital. The Tortoni, opened in the early days of the Empire by Velloni, an Italian lemonade vender, was the most popular of the boulevard cafés, and was generally thronged with fashionables from all parts of Europe. Here Louis Blanc, historian of the Revolution, spent many hours in the early days of his fame. Talleyrand; Rossini, the musician; Alfred Stevens and Edouard Manet, artists, are some of the names still linked with the traditions of the Tortoni. Farther down the boulevard were the Café Riche, Maison Dorée, Café Anglais, and the Café de Paris. The Riche and the Dorée, standing side by side, were both high-priced and noted for their revelries. The Anglais, which came into existence after the snuffing out of the Empire, was also distinguished for its high prices, but in return gave an excellent dinner and fine wines. It is told that even during the siege of Paris the Anglais offered its patrons "such luxuries as ass, mule, peas, fried potatoes, and champagne."

Probably the Café de Paris, which came into existence in 1822, in the former home of the Russian Prince Demidoff, was the most richly equipped and elegantly conducted of any café in Paris in the nineteenth century. Alfred de Musset, a frequenter, said, "you could not open its doors for less than 15 francs."

The Café Littéraire, opened on boulevard Bonne Nouvelle late in the nineteenth century, made a direct appeal to literary men for patronage, printing this footnote on its menu: "Every customer spending a franc in this establishment is entitled to one volume of any work to be selected from our vast collection."

Other famous cafes include the Café Laurent, which Rousseau was forced to leave after writing an especially bitter satire; the English café in which eccentric Lord Wharton made merry with the Whig habitués; the Dutch café, the haunt of Jacobites; Terre's, in the rue Neuve des Petits Champs, which Thackeray described in The Ballad of Bouillabaisse; Maire's, in the boulevard St.-Denis, which dates back beyond 1850; the Café Madrid, in the boulevard Montmartre, of which Carjat, the Spanish lyric poet, was an attraction; the Café de la Paix, in the boulevard des Capucines, the resort of Second Empire Imperialists and their spies; the Café Durand, in the place de la Madeleine, which started on a plane with the high-priced Riche, and ended its career early in the twentieth century; the Rocher de Cancale, memorable for its feasts and high-living patrons from all over Europe; the Café Guerbois, near the rue de St. Petersburg, where Manet, the impressionist, after many vicissitudes, won fame for his paintings and held court for many years; the Chat Noir, on the rue Victor Massé at Montmartre, a blend of café and concert hall, which has since been imitated widely, both in name and feature.

No comments:

Post a Comment