RAMPONAUX' ROYAL DRUMMER, ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR OF THE EARLY PARISIAN CAFÉSRAMPONAUX’ ROYAL DRUMMER, ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR OF THE EARLY PARISIAN CAFÉSStarted originally as a tavern, this hostelry added coffee to its cuisine and became famous in the reign of Louis XV The illustration is from an early print used to advertise the “Royal Drummer’s” attractions

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Chapter XI

HISTORY OF THE EARLY PARISIAN COFFEE HOUSES

The introduction of coffee into Paris by Thévenot in 1657—How Soliman Aga established the custom of coffee drinking at the court of Louis XIV—Opening the first coffee houses—How the French adaptation of the Oriental coffee house first appeared in the real French café of François Procope—The important part played by the coffee houses in the development of French literature and the stage—Their association with the Revolution and the founding of the Republic—Quaint customs and patrons—Historic Parisian cafés

IF we are to accept the authority of Jean La Roque, “before the year 1669 coffee had scarcely been seen in Paris, except at M. Thévenot’s and at the homes of some of his friends. Nor had it been heard of except in the writings of travelers.”

As noted in chapter V, Jean de Thévenot brought coffee into Paris in 1657. One account says that a decoction, supposed to have been coffee, was sold by a Levantine in the Petit Châtelet under the name of cohove or cahoue during the reign of Louis XIII, but this lacks confirmation. Louis XIV is said to have been served with coffee for the first time in 1664.

Soon after the arrival, in July, 1669, of the Turkish ambassador, Soliman Aga, it became noised abroad that he had brought with him for his own use, and that of his retinue, great quantities of coffee. He “treated several persons with it, both in the court and the city.” At length “many accustomed themselves to it with sugar, and others who found benefit by it could not leave it off.”

Within six months all Paris was talking of the sumptuous coffee functions of the ambassador from Mohammed IV to the court of Louis XIV.

Isaac D’Israeli best describes them in his Curiosities of Literature:

On bended knee, the black slaves of the Ambassador, arrayed in the most gorgeous Oriental costumes, served the choicest Mocha coffee in tiny cups of egg-shell porcelain, hot, strong and fragrant, poured out in saucers of gold and silver, placed on embroidered silk doylies fringed with gold bullion, to the grand dames, who fluttered their fans with many grimaces, bending their piquant faces—be-rouged, be-powdered and be-patched—over the new and steaming beverage.

It was in 1669 or 1672 that Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal; 1626–96), the celebrated French letter-writer, is said to have made that famous prophecy, “There are two things Frenchmen will never swallow—coffee and Racine’s poetry,” sometimes abbreviated into, “Racine and coffee will pass.” What Madame really said, according to one authority, was that Racine was writing for Champmeslé, the actress, and not for posterity; again, of coffee she said, “s’en dégoûterait comme; d’un indigne favori” (People will become disgusted with it as with an unworthy favorite).

Larousse says the double judgment was wrongly attributed to Mme. de Sévigné. The celebrated aphorism, like many others, was forged later. Mme. de Sévigné said, “Racine made his comedies for the Champmeslé—not for the ages to come.” This was in 1672. Four years later, she said to[Pg 92] her daughter, “You have done well to quit coffee. Mlle. de Mere has also given it up.”

Coffee Was First Sold and Served Publicly in the Fair of St.-GermainCoffee Was First Sold and Served Publicly in the Fair of St.-GermainFrom a Seventeenth-Century Print

However it may have been, the amiable letter-writer was destined to live to see Frenchmen yielding at once to the lure of coffee and to the poetical artifices of the greatest dramatic craftsman of his day.

While it is recorded that coffee made slow progress with the court of Louis XIV, the next king, Louis XV, to please his mistress, du Barry, gave it a tremendous vogue. It is related that he spent $15,000 a year for coffee for his daughters.

Meanwhile, in 1672, one Pascal, an Armenian, first sold coffee publicly in Paris. Pascal, who, according to one account, was brought to Paris by Soliman Aga, offered the beverage for sale from a tent, which was also a kind of booth, in the fair of St.-Germain, supplemented by the service of Turkish waiter boys, who peddled it among the crowds from small cups on trays. The fair was held during the first two months of spring, in a large open plot just inside the walls of Paris and near the Latin Quarter. As Pascal’s waiter boys circulated through the crowds on those chilly days the fragrant odor of freshly made coffee brought many ready sales of the steaming beverage; and soon visitors to the fair learned to look for the “little black” cupful of cheer, or petit noir, a name that still endures.

When the fair closed, Pascal opened a small coffee shop on the Quai de l’École, near the Pont Neuf; but his frequenters were of a type who preferred the beers and wines of the day, and coffee languished. Pascal continued, however, to send his waiter boys with their large coffee jugs, that were heated by lamps, through the streets of Paris and from door to door. Their cheery cry of “café! café!” became a welcome call to many a Parisian, who later missed his petit noir when Pascal gave up and moved on to London, where coffee drinking was then in high favor.

Street Coffee Vender of Paris—Period, 1672 to 1689—Two Sous per Dish, Sugar IncludedStreet Coffee Vender of Paris—Period, 1672 to 1689—Two Sous per Dish, Sugar Included

Lacking favor at court, coffee’s progress was slow. The French smart set clung to its light wines and beers. In 1672, Maliban,[Pg 93] another Armenian, opened a coffee house in the rue Bussy, next to the Metz tennis court near St.-Germain’s abbey. He supplied tobacco also to his customers. Later he went to Holland, leaving his servant and partner, Gregory, a Persian, in charge. Gregory moved to the rue Mazarine, to be near the Comédie Française. He was succeeded in the business by Makara, another Persian, who later returned to Ispahan, leaving the coffee house to one Le Gantois, of Liége.

About this period there was a cripple boy from Candia, known as le Candiot, who began to cry “coffee!” in the streets of Paris. He carried with him a coffee pot of generous size, a chafing-dish, cups, and all other implements necessary to his trade. He sold his coffee from door to door at two sous per dish, sugar included.

Many of the Early Parisian Coffee Houses Followed Pascal's Lead and Affected Armenian DecorationsMany of the Early Parisian Coffee Houses Followed Pascal’s Lead and Affected Armenian DecorationsFrom a Seventeenth-Century Print

A Levantine named Joseph also sold coffee in the streets, and later had several coffee shops of his own. Stephen, from Aleppo, next opened a coffee house on Pont au Change, moving, when his business prospered, to more pretentious quarters in the rue St.-André, facing St.-Michael’s bridge.

A Corner of the Historic Café de Procope Showing Voltaire and Diderot in DebateA Corner of the Historic Café de Procope Showing Voltaire and Diderot in DebateFrom a rare water color

All these, and others, were essentially the Oriental style of coffee house of the lower order, and they appealed principally to the poorer classes and to foreigners. “Gentlemen and people of fashion” did not care to be seen in this type of public house. But when the French merchants began to set up, first at St.-Germain’s fair, “spacious apartments in an elegant manner, ornamented with tapestries, large mirrors, pictures, marble tables, branches for candles, magnificent lustres, and serving coffee, tea, chocolate, and other refreshments”, they were soon crowded with people of fashion and men of letters.

In this way coffee drinking in public acquired a badge of respectability. Presently there were some three hundred coffee houses in Paris. The principal coffee men, in addition to plying their trade in the city, maintained coffee rooms in St.-Germain’s and St.-Laurence’s fairs. These were frequented by women as well as men.

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The Progenitor of the Real Parisian Café

It was not until 1689, that there appeared in Paris a real French adaptation of the Oriental coffee house. This was the Café de Procope, opened by François Procope (Procopio Cultelli, or Cotelli) who came from Florence or Palermo. Procope was a limonadier (lemonade vender) who had a royal license to sell spices, ices, barley water, lemonade, and other such refreshments. He early added coffee to the list, and attracted a large and distinguished patronage.

Procope, a keen-witted merchant, made his appeal to a higher class of patrons than did Pascal and those who first followed him. He established his café directly opposite the newly opened Comédie Française, in the street then known as the rue des Fossés-St.-Germain, but now the rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. A writer of the period has left this description of the place: “The Café de Procope … was also called the Antre [cavern] de Procope, because it was very dark even in full day, and ill-lighted in the evenings; and because you often saw there a set of lank, sallow poets, who had somewhat the air of apparitions.”

Because of its location, the Café de Procope became the gathering place of many noted French actors, authors, dramatists, and musicians of the eighteenth century. It was a veritable literary salon. Voltaire was a constant patron; and until the close of the historic café, after an existence of more than two centuries, his marble table and chair were among the precious relics of the coffee house. His favorite drink is said to have been a mixture of coffee and chocolate. Rousseau, author and philosopher; Beaumarchais, dramatist and financier; Diderot, the encyclopedist; Ste.-Foix, the abbé of Voisenon; de Belloy, author of the Siege of Callais; Lemierre, author of Artaxerce; Crébillon; Piron; La Chaussée; Fontenelle; Condorcet; and a host of lesser lights in the French arts, were habitués of François Procope’s modest coffee saloon near the Comédie Française.

Naturally, the name of Benjamin Franklin, recognized in Europe as one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the days of the American Revolution, was often spoken over the coffee cups of Café de Procope; and when the distinguished American died in 1790, this French coffee house went into deep mourning “for the great friend of republicanism.” The walls, inside and out, were swathed in black bunting, and the statesmanship and scientific attainments of Franklin were acclaimed by all frequenters.

The Café de Procope looms large in the annals of the French Revolution. During the turbulent days of 1789 one could find at the tables, drinking coffee or stronger beverages, and engaged in debate over the burning questions of the hour, such characters as Marat, Robespierre, Danton, Hébert, and Desmoulins. Napoleon Bonaparte, then a poor artillery officer seeking a commission, was also there. He busied himself largely in playing chess, a favorite recreation of the early Parisian coffee-house patrons. It is related that François Procope once compelled young Bonaparte to leave his hat for security while he sought money to pay his coffee score.

After the Revolution, the Café de Procope lost its literary prestige and sank to the level of an ordinary restaurant. During the last half of the nineteenth century, Paul Verlaine, bohemian, poet, and leader of the symbolists, made the Café de Procope his haunt; and for a time it regained some of its lost popularity. The Restaurant Procope still survives at 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie.

History records that, with the opening of the Café de Procope, coffee became firmly established in Paris. In the reign of Louis XV there were 600 cafés in Paris. At the close of the eighteenth century there were more than 800. By 1843 the number had increased to more than 3000.
The Development of the Cafés

Coffee’s vogue spread rapidly, and many cabaréts and famous eating houses began to add it to their menus. Among these was the Tour d’Argent (silver tower), which had been opened on the Quai de la Tournelle in 1582, and speedily became Paris’s most fashionable restaurant. It still is one of the chief attractions for the epicure, retaining the reputation for its cooking that drew a host of world leaders, from Napoleon to Edward VII, to its quaint interior.

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THE CAFÉ DE PROCOPE IN 1743THE CAFÉ DE PROCOPE IN 1743From an engraving by Bosredon

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Another tavern that took up coffee after Procope, was the Royal Drummer, which Jean Ramponaux established at the Courtille des Porcherons and which followed Magny’s. His hostelry rightly belongs to the tavern class, although coffee had a prominent place on its menu. It became notorious for excesses and low-class vices during the reign of Louis XV, who was a frequent visitor. Low and high were to be found in Ramponaux’s cellar, particularly when some especially wild revelry was in prospect. Marie Antoinette once declared she had her most enjoyable time at a wild farandole in the Royal Drummer. Ramponaux was taken to its heart by fashionable Paris; and his name was used as a trade mark on furniture, clothes, and foods.

The Cashier's Counter in a Paris Coffee House of 1782The Cashier’s Counter in a Paris Coffee House of 1782From a drawing by Rétif de la Bretonne

The popularity of Ramponaux’s Royal Drummer is attested by an inscription on an early print showing the interior of the café. Translated, it reads:

The pleasures of ease untroubled to taste,
The leisure of home to enjoy without haste,
Perhaps a few hours at Magny’s to waste,
Ah, that was the old-fashioned way!
Today all our laborers, everyone knows,
Go running away ere the working hours close,
And why? They must be at Monsieur Ramponaux’!
Behold, the new style of café!

When coffee houses began to crop up rapidly in Paris, the majority centered in the Palais Royal, “that garden spot of beauty, enclosed on three sides by three tiers of galleries,” which Richelieu had erected in 1636, under the name of Palais Cardinal, in the reign of Louis XIII. It became known as the Palais Royal in 1643; and soon after the opening of the Café de Procope, it began to blossom out with many attractive coffee stalls, or rooms, sprinkled among the other shops that occupied the galleries overlooking the gardens.
Life In The Early Coffee Houses

Diderot tells in 1760, in his Rameau’s Nephew, of the life and frequenters of one of the Palais Royal coffee houses, the Regency (Café de la Régence):

In all weathers, wet or fine, it is my practice to go toward five o’clock in the evening to take a turn in the Palais Royal…. If the weather is too cold or too wet I take shelter in the Regency coffee house. There I amuse myself by looking on while they play chess. Nowhere in the world do they play chess as skillfully as in Paris and nowhere in Paris as they do at this coffee house; ’tis here you see Légal the profound, Philidor the subtle, Mayot the solid; here you see the most astounding moves, and listen to the sorriest talk, for if a man be at once a wit and a great chess player, like Légal, he may also be a great chess player and a sad simpleton, like Joubert and Mayot.

The beginnings of the Regency coffee house are associated with the legend that Lefévre, a Parisian, began peddling coffee in the streets of Paris about the time Procope opened his café in 1689. The story has it that Lefévre later opened a café near the Palais Royal, selling it in 1718 to one Leclerc, who named it the Café de la Régence, in honor of the regent of Orleans, a name that still endures on a broad sign over its doors. The nobility had their rendezvous there after having paid their court to the regent.

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THE CAFÉ FOY IN THE PALAIS ROYAL, 1789THE CAFÉ FOY IN THE PALAIS ROYAL, 1789From an engraving by Bosredon

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To name the patrons of the Café de la Régence in its long career would be to outline a history of French literature for more than two centuries. There was Philidor the “greatest theoretician of the eighteenth century, better known for his chess than his music”; Robespierre, of the Revolution, who once played chess with a girl—disguised as a boy—for the life of her lover; Napoleon, who was then noted more for his chess than his empire-building propensities; and Gambetta, whose loud voice, generally raised in debate, disturbed one chess player so much that he protested because he could not follow his game. Voltaire, Alfred de Musset; Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, J.J. Rousseau, the Duke of Richelieu, Marshall Saxe, Buffon, Rivarol, Fontenelle, Franklin, and Henry Murger are names still associated with memories of this historic café: Marmontel and Philidor played there at their favorite game of chess. Diderot tells in his Memoirs that his wife gave him every day nine sous to get his coffee there. It was in this establishment that he worked on his Encyclopedia.

Chess is today still in favor at the Régence, although the players are not, as were the earlier patrons, obliged to pay by the hour for their tables with extra charges for candles placed by the chess-boards. The present Café de la Régence is in the rue St.-Honoré, but retains in large measure its aspect of olden days.

Michelet, the historian, has given us a rhapsodic pen picture of the Parisian cafés under the regency:

Paris became one vast café. Conversation in France was at its zenith. There were less eloquence and rhetoric than in ’89. With the exception of Rousseau, there was no orator to cite. The intangible flow of wit was as spontaneous as possible. For this sparkling outburst there is no doubt that honor should be ascribed in part to the auspicious revolution of the times, to the great event which created new customs, and even modified human temperament—the advent of coffee.

Its effect was immeasurable, not being weakened and neutralized as it is today by the brutalizing influence of tobacco. They took snuff, but did not smoke. The cabarét was dethroned, the ignoble cabarét, where, during the reign of Louis XIV, the youth of the city rioted amid wine-casks in the company of light women. The night was less thronged with chariots. Fewer lords found a resting place in the gutter. The elegant shop, where conversation flowed, a salon rather than a shop, changed and ennobled its customs. The reign of coffee is that of temperance. Coffee, the beverage of sobriety, a powerful mental stimulant, which, unlike spirituous liquors, increases clearness and lucidity; coffee, which suppresses the vague, heavy fantasies of the imagination, which from the perception of reality brings forth the sparkle and sunlight of truth; coffee anti-erotic….

The three ages of coffee are those of modern thought; they mark the serious moments of the brilliant epoch of the soul.

Arabian coffee is the pioneer, even before 1700. The beautiful ladies that you see in the fashionable rooms of Bonnard, sipping from their tiny cups—they are enjoying the aroma of the finest coffee of Arabia. And of what are they chatting? Of the seraglio, of Chardin, of the Sultana’s coiffure, of the Thousand and One Nights (1704). They compare the ennui of Versailles with the paradise of the Orient.

Very soon, in 1710–1720, commences the reign of Indian coffee, abundant, popular, comparatively cheap. Bourbon, our Indian island, where coffee was transplanted, suddenly realizes unheard-of happiness. This coffee of volcanic lands acts as an explosive on the Regency and the new spirit of things. This sudden cheer, this laughter of the old world, these overwhelming flashes of wit, of which the sparkling verse of Voltaire, the Persian Letters, give us a faint idea! Even the most brilliant books have not succeeded in catching on the wing this airy chatter, which comes, goes, flies elusively. This is that spirit of ethereal nature which, in the Thousand and One Nights, the enchanter confined in his bottle. But what phial would have withstood that pressure?

The lava of Bourbon, like the Arabian sand, was unequal to the demand. The Regent recognized this and had coffee transported to the fertile soil of our Antilles. The strong coffee of Santo Domingo, full, coarse, nourishing as well as stimulating, sustained the adult population of that period, the strong age of the encyclopedia. It was drunk by Buffon, Diderot, Rousseau, added its glow to glowing souls, its light to the penetrating vision of the prophets gathered in the cave of Procope, who saw at the bottom of the black beverage the future rays of ’89. Danton, the terrible Danton, took several cups of coffee before mounting the tribune. ‘The horse must have its oats,’ he said.

The vogue of coffee popularized the use of sugar, which was then bought by the ounce at the apothecary’s shop. Dufour says that in Paris they used to put so much sugar in the coffee that “it was nothing but a syrup of blackened water.” The ladies were wont to have their carriages stop in front of the Paris cafés and to have their coffee served to them by the porter on saucers of silver.

Every year saw new cafés opened. When they became so numerous, and competition grew so keen, it was necessary to invent new attractions for customers. Then was born the café chantant, where songs, monologues, dances, little plays and farces (not always in the best taste), were provided to amuse the frequenters. Many of these cafés chantants were in the open air along the Champs-Elysées. In bad weather, Paris provided the pleasure-seeker with the Eldorado, Alcazar d’Hiver, Scala, Gaieté, Concert du XIXme Siécle, Folies Bobino, Rambuteau, Concert Européen, and countless other meeting places where one could be served with a cup of coffee.

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THE CAFÉ DES MILLE COLONNES IN 1811THE CAFÉ DES MILLE COLONNES IN 1811From an engraving by Bosredon

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As in London, certain cafés were noted for particular followings, like the military, students, artists, merchants. The politicians had their favorite resorts. Says Salvandy:[86]

These were senates in miniature; here mighty political questions were discussed; here peace and war were decided upon; here generals were brought to the bar of justice … distinguished orators were victoriously refuted, ministers heckled upon their ignorance, their incapacity, their perfidy, their corruption. The café is in reality a French institution; in them we find all these agitations and movements of men, the like of which is unknown in the English tavern. No government can go against the sentiment of the cafés. The Revolution took place because they were for the Revolution. Napoleon reigned because they were for glory. The Restoration was shattered, because they understood the Charter in a different manner.

In 1700 appeared the Portefeuille Galant, containing conversations of the cafés.
The Cafés in the French Revolution

The Palais Royal coffee houses were centers of activity in the days preceding and following the Revolution. A picture of them in the July days of 1789 has been left by Arthur Young, who was visiting Paris at that time:

The coffee houses present yet more singular and astounding spectacles; they are not only crowded within, but other expectant crowds are at the doors and windows, listening à gorge déployée to certain orators who from chairs or tables harangue each his little audience; the eagerness with which they are heard, and the thunder of applause they receive for every sentiment of more than common hardiness or violence against the government, cannot easily be imagined.

The Palais Royal teemed with excited Frenchmen on the fateful Sunday of July 12, 1789. The moment was a tense one, when, coming out of the Café Foy, Camille Desmoulins, a youthful journalist, mounted a table and began the harangue that precipitated the first overt act of the French Revolution. Blazing with a white hot frenzy, he so played upon the passions of the mob that at the conclusion of his speech he and his followers “marched away from the Café on their errand of Revolution.” The Bastille fell two days later.

As if abashed by its reputation as the starting point of the mob spirit of the Revolution, Café Foy became in after years a sedate gathering-place of artists and literati. Up to its close it was distinguished among other famous Parisian cafés for its exclusiveness and strictly enforced rule of “no smoking.”

Even from the first the Parisian cafés catered to all classes of society; and, unlike the London coffee houses, they retained this distinctive characteristic. A number of them early added other liquid and substantial refreshments, many becoming out-and-out restaurants.
Coffee-House Customs and Patrons

Coffee’s effect on Parisians is thus described by a writer of the latter part of the eighteenth century:

I think I may safely assert that it is to the establishment of so many cafés in Paris that is due the urbanity and mildness discernible upon most faces. Before they existed, nearly everybody passed his time at the cabarét, where even business matters were discussed. Since their establishment, people assemble to hear what is going on, drinking and playing only in moderation, and the consequence is that they are more civil and polite, at least in appearance.

Montesquieu’s satirical pen pictured in his Persian Letters the earliest cafés as follows:

In some of these houses they talk news; in others, they play draughts. There is one where they prepare the coffee in such a manner that it inspires the drinkers of it with wit; at least, of all those who frequent it, there is not one person in four who does not think he has more wit after he has entered that house. But what offends me in these wits is that they do not make themselves useful to their country.

Montesquieu encountered a geometrician outside a coffee house on the Pont Neuf, and accompanied him inside. He describes the incident in this manner:

I observe that our geometrician was received there with the utmost officiousness, and that the coffee house boys paid him much more respect than two musqueteers who were in a corner of the room. As for him, he seemed as if he thought himself in an agreeable place; for he unwrinkled his brows a little and laughed, as if he had not the least tincture of geometrician in him…. He was offended at every start of wit, as a tender eye is by too strong a light…. At last I saw an old man enter, pale and thin, whom I knew to be a coffee house politician before he sat down; he was not one of those who are never to be intimidated by disasters, but always prophesy of victories and success; he was one of those timorous wretches who are always boding ill.

Café Momus and Café Rotonde figure conspicuously in the record of French bohemianism. The Momus stood near the right bank of the River Seine in rue des Prêtres St.-Germain, and was known as the home of the bohemians. The Rotonde stood on the left bank at the corner of the rue de l’École de Médecine and the rue Hautefeuille.

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THE CAFÉ DE PARIS IN 1843THE CAFÉ DE PARIS IN 1843From an engraving by Bosredon

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Alexandre Schanne has given us a glimpse of bohemian life in the early cafés. He lays his scene in the Café Rotonde, and tells how a number of poor students were wont to make one cup of coffee last the coterie a full evening by using it to flavor and to color the one glass of water shared in common. He says:

Every evening, the first comer at the waiter’s inquiry, “What will you take, sir?” never failed to reply, “Nothing just at present, I am waiting for a friend.” The friend arrived, to be assailed by the brutal question, “Have you any money?” He would make a despairing gesture in the negative, and then add, loud enough to be heard by the dame du comptoir, “By Jove, no; only fancy, I left my purse on my console-table, with gilt feet, in the purest Louis XV style. Ah! what a thing it is to be forgetful.” He would sit down, and the waiter would wipe the table as if he had something to do. A third would come, who was sometimes able to reply, “Yes. I have ten sous.” “Good!” we would reply; “order a cup of coffee, a glass and a water bottle; pay and give two sous to the waiter to secure his silence.” This would be done. Others would come and take their places beside us, repeating to the waiter the same chorus, “We are with this gentleman.” Frequently we would be eight or nine sitting at the same table, and only one customer. Whilst smoking and reading the papers we would, however, pass the glass and bottle. When the water began to run short, as on a ship in distress, one of us would have the impudence to call out, “Waiter, some water!” The master of the establishment, who understood our situation, had no doubt given orders for us to be left alone, and made his fortune without our help. He was a good fellow and an intelligent one, having subscribed to all the scientific journals of Europe, which brought him the custom of foreign students.

Another café perpetuating the best traditions of the Latin Quarter was the Vachette, which survived until the death of Jean Moréas in 1911. The Vachette is usually cited by antiquarians as a model of circumspection as compared with the scores of cafés in the Quarter that were given up to debaucheries. One writer puts it: “The Vachette traditions leaned more to scholarship than sensuality.”

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the Parisian café was truly a coffee house; but as many of the patrons began to while away most of their waking hours in them, the proprietors added other beverages and food to hold their patronage. Consequently, we find listed among the cafés of Paris some houses that are more accurately described as restaurants, although they may have started their careers as coffee houses.
Historic Parisian Cafés

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[Pg 103] historian; and Voisin’s café, around which still cling traditions of such literary lights as Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Jules de Goncourt.

Interior of a Typical Parisian Café of the Early Nineteenth CenturyInterior of a Typical Parisian Café of the Early Nineteenth Century

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.”

The names of Parisian cafés once more or less famous are legion. Some of them are:

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[Pg 104] 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.

Chess Has Been a Favorite Pastime at the Café de la Régence for two hundred years.Chess Has Been a Favorite Pastime at the Café de la Régence for two hundred years.
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