Spring Has Finally Sprung in Paris
Over lunch last week at Café Charlot, we were discussing the three important Saint-Germain-des-Prés cafés with Joanie Osburn, author of Café Society: Time Suspended, the Cafés & Bistros of Paris, and her husband, Steve: Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore and Brasserie Lipp. Joanie told us how the first two have gotten so touristy that now there is a line out front to get in and that they just aren’t the same as they were before. The one that seems to have maintained its original ambiance is La Brasserie Lipp.
By coincidence, as things seem to happen in France, synchronistically, not only did I have the occasion to dine at “The Lipp,” as we affectionately call it, but on Easter Sunday, I happened by chance to walk past Les Deux Magots and Le Café Flore to witness it for myself.
La Brasserie Lipp is a true Paris institution, founded in 1880. When I think of The Lipp, their black-tuxedoed waiters with a white cloth napkin draped over one arm come to mind immediately, as well as their reputation for being rude or caustic. Comments on various websites echo the sentiment with such rhetoric as: “We had great ‘jambon'[ham] and ‘choucroute’* there, but our waiter was a bit brusque.” Here’s another one: “Food was ok; service was bad. The waiters refused to explain things on the menu (they didn’t have one in English) and they acted very condescending toward us for not speaking French. We also felt very rushed. We would’ve brushed it off but the food wasn’t worth it.”
I hadn’t been there in too many years to count until Friday night, at the invitation of old friends, who are a French-American couple and residents of Paris for more years than me. They are regulars at The Lipp and love their choucroute above all others. I agreed to meet there, happily so.
The decor and atmosphere are as Parisian as it gets. There are few establishments as elegant and formal as The Lipp. It would be near to impossible to reproduce such grandeur in today’s world. The waiters are exactly who they are supposed to be. They have been working there as professionals for eons. We had nothing but perfectly friendly service. As veteran Parisians, we know exactly how to treat them and we know exactly how to be treated BY them. That’s what the tourists don’t seem to understand.
Wake up, tourists! Why should their menu be in English? To cater to YOU? Don’t think so. And when you asked them to explain the menu in English, why should they? It’s classic French fare and there is nothing on it out of the ordinary that needs explaining. This is the kind of menu with which you should already be familiar. I ordered “Poireaux Vinaigrette” and “Confit de Canard” with “Pommes de Terre.” It was delicious, copious, and exactly what one would expect at The Lipp.
The Lipp wasn’t cheap, but it WAS worth it, unlike for the tourist who reported that their waiter was condescending. My guess is that this tourist didn’t know how to behave and that set the waiter off in a bad mood, then he just played the part, knowing that’s what the tourist expected!
Sure, there were some tourists there (like the four American women next to us who were way too loud for our taste), but also a lot of local Parisians, many gray-headed seasoned residents who frequent The Lipp, and others like it. It has been frequented for 143 years by mega personalities such as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir! I guarantee you they had good service, just like we did.
*“Choucroute” is basically sauerkraut to us, from Alsace made with finely-cut cooked cabbage processed by lacto-fermentation in brine, with juniper berries and usually accompanied by some kind of garnish.
THE GOOD MARKET AND THE WIT OF ERWITT
For an Easter Sunday outing, I took my visiting daughter to lunch and shopping at La Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché before a mid-afternoon reservation at the Musée Maillol to see the exhibition “Elliott Erwitt: Une rétrospective.”
La Table is my favorite restaurant in La Grande Epicerie. Bathed in light, as it was on one of the city’s most glorious spring days, located on the first floor (European) under a huge glass roof, three “French-style” menus make it easy to be happy.
Then, shopping at Le Bon Marché is always a way to lift your spirits. La Grande Epicerie is missing NOTHING. There are sections of products from different countries, the U.S. among them, filled with American well-known packaged goods (that no one should be eating)! The produce is picture-perfect and the finest you’ve ever seen. And believe it or not, the prices seriously rival Whole Foods. Tomatoes at La Grande Epicerie were about 7.95€ a kilo. That makes them 3.61€ per pound (1 kilo = 2.20462 pounds), and at today’s rate of exchange, that’s $3.93 per pound. By comparison, 10 ounces of Whole Foods Organic Cherry Tomatoes, sold in a plastic container, sells for $5.49, therefore one pound would cost $8.78, or 8.06€. In other words…Whole Foods is more than twice the price of La Grande Epicerie, the finest produce you can buy when you consider that each kilo is worth 2.2 pounds! I rest my case.
After lunch and after perusing both the Grande Epicerie and the main department store, a beautiful store filled with beautiful things, we walked a short distance to the Musée Maillol for the exhibition.
Elliott Erwitt’s work has always struck a chord with me and this exhibition was a symphony.
The exhibition pays tribute to one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, a member of Magnum Photos since 1954, and one-time president of the prestigious international photographic cooperative. The exhibition presents his work through a collection of 215 black and white and color photographs, one more humorous than the next…at least for me. I laughed in awe all the way through it.
“An American photographer of European origin, Elliott Erwitt is at once a painter of the intimate, a photojournalist, an advertising photographer, a film director, and a portraitist of personalities such as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Alfred Hitchcock, Nikita Khrushchev, etc. He has a way of immortalizing moments of everyday life with a look that belongs only to him, mixing humor and emotion.”
Oh, so true. He said himself, “In fact, to say that there is humanity in my photographs is the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid.” He also said, “I’m not a serious photographer like many of my contemporaries. That is to say, I am serious about not being serious.”
Don’t miss this exhibit if you can help it, even if you have to make a special trip to Paris to see it.
We walked slowly home from the museum in the beautiful warmth of the sun, which enabled us to pass the famous cafés of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and head toward the Pont des Arts, passing stunning pink flowering trees along the way. Every single Parisian was out on the streets, without a doubt.
LOUIS AND YAYOI
As we crossed to the Right Bank and passed the new Samaritaine Department Store, I was surprised to see the transformation from what was once Conforama to the new Louis Vuitton store, a colorful metamorphosis that they owe to the renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. . In front of the facade of the luxury brand is a monumental character with red hair, enthroned, seemingly depositing touches of color on the facade.
This gigantic and colorful work marks the new collaboration between Louis Vuitton and the artist who created a collection composed of more than 400 exclusive pieces: Painted Dots, Infinity Dots, Metal Dots, Psychedelic Flowers…motifs symbolizing Yayoi Kusama’s brushstrokes now adorn Louis Vuitton items.
Not sure how long it will be there, so put this one on your Paris bucket list along with Erwitt!
Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Ramadan and Happy Life in France, with or without Religion!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. You are cordially invited to attend the book launch for Café Society on Thursday, April 13th, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Le Mesturet d’Alain Fontaine, 77, rue Richelieu, 75002 Paris, +33 1 42 97 40 68.
P.P.S. Many of today’s photos were taken by Erica Simone, my daughter.
You’re awfully rough on American tourists. You don’t see the ones who don’t cause a fuss because they melt into the background. We’ve eaten at Brasserie Lipp a couple times and loved it. The food was good and the waiters went out of their way to see that we enjoyed our dinners. Nearby French patrons politely asked us where we were from and shared places we might enjoy in Paris. We were quietly speaking English to each other so there was no doubt we were from the English speaking world.
We’ve run into rather loud British, Dutch and German groups so it’s not just Americans. We’ve also seen some pretty loud French. People in groups tend to be louder than couples no matter where they are from.
Definitely agree about grocery prices. We loved the Grande Epicerie but didn’t buy anything. Proxi works for the little shopping we do in Paris. I love Paris and your articles but we spend most of our time in country gites where it’s quieter and more comfortable. We’ve always looked at France as a budget destination. It just depends on where you go and your vacation lifestyle. Buy seasonal foods and look for local brands and it is very reasonable. The airline ticket is the big expense. Gites de France are in all budget ranges, some ridiculously cheap and all we’ve stayed in very friendly and very clean.
Thank you for all your helpful information, but please have a little mercy on American tourists.
Thanks so much and thank you for sharing your comments.
Thanks for the museum suggestions. I immediately purchased tickets for the Elliot Erwitt exhibit at the Maillot. I’ll be in Paris in May. I still have my dream of living in France someday, maybe Rennes as it would be more affordable. We’ll see.
I love reading your newsletter. It brings France to me.
That’s why the nickname for Whole Foods is “Whole Wallet.” haha. Choose Trader Joe’s or the weekly Farmers Market for inexpensive produce out here in California. Although I’m sure the French produce is a lot tastier. Totally agree on the Wake up Tourists comments.