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Paris’ Grand Historic Symbols — Les Brasseries Parisiennes

At the closing of the recent movie “Something’s Gotta Give,” Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) dines with current younger lover Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) in a classic Paris brasserie only to be surprised by past romantic interest Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson).

Paris is naturally the setting for such a romantic encounter and where better than in a classic Paris brasserie, the kind that our mind immediately conjures up with the sound of the word “Paa-ris?” These grand historic symbols reflect the artistic style of the era from which they were born — the Belle Epoque — the last half of the 19th-century.

The restaurant they chose for the film was “Le Grand Colbert,” at 2, rue Vivienne in the restored Galerie Colbert (2nd). One of Paris’ most beautiful brasseries, art-covered glass panels and palms divide the very long dining area.

Like most of the “Grandes Brasseries” of this genre, the tourists have not driven out the Parisians, surprisingly, and I can only surmise that the French still appreciate the decor, style of cuisine and impeccable service.

A few blocks away on the same street is another of note, facing the Bourse at number 29 — Le Vaudeville. I had the occasion to dine there last night with a visiting friend from my home state, a Cajun and a gentleman who relishes France with every morsel he swallows. At 8 p.m. there were only a few tables taken, but by 10 p.m., not an empty seat was to be had — a Monday evening in a not-so-bustling part of the city. Outside on the “place” of the Bourse, a film company was shooting something…not an unusual happenstance at this spot with the backdrop of the Bourse and Le Vaudeville in the camera’s eye.

If you’re a fan of “soupe a d’oignon,” then Les Brasseries Parisiennes are where you can depend on finding it of “haute qualité.” In an article by U.K. Observer-Guardian, about the father of all Paris brasseries (inaugurated in 1864), Bofinger at 7, rue de la Bastille (4th), Jean-Luc Blanlot, Bofinger’s director, claims they serve 80 orders of soupe a l’oignon every evening, and each week use 90 kilos of foie gras! People book weeks ahead to be able to sit beneath the intricate glass dome above the central dining room.

La Coupole on the Left Bank at 102, boulevard du Montparnasse (14th), in the heart of the literary district, is renowned as a place to “see and be seen.” Tales of older women picking up younger men there are not only rumored, but personally witnessed. A former wood and coal store, bought in 1927 by René Layon and Ernest Fraux, managers of Le Dôme Café nearby, La Coupole is the largest brasserie in Paris — 1000 square meters. In its basement dance hall, j2999ephine Baker performed at a time when the greatest names in jazz and blues conquered Paris.

The Flo Brasseries now own most of Paris’ finest: Bofinger, Brasserie Flo, Flo Printemps, Julien, La Coupole, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Les Grandes Marches, Le Vaudeville, Terminus nord and Brasserie Balzar. Perhaps you remember Adam Gopnik’s adventure in trying to save Brasserie Balzar from the Flo takeover in his book “Paris to the Moon?”

Let’s just hope that even though there little chance of saving these relics of Paris past from the “big guys” who are taking them over bit by bit, that they will continue to respect their illustrious beginnings and our desire to hold them in our hearts as grand historic symbols of the Paris we love.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. At Flo’s their official Web site, you can discover a panoramic view of each of the brasseries and make reservations online.

P.P.S. I will be traveling beginning tomorrow to the U.S. for our conferences on living in France and beyond and trying to bring you Parler Paris without interruption…but please forgive me if time zones, slow Internet access and transportation mishaps slow down the mail and of course, responses to your letters. Thank you.

* Further resources:

* Participants are already claiming seats at our upcoming Travel Writer’s Workshop here in Paris, scheduled for May 9-12, 2004. Save $100 on the enrollment fee when you sign up now. For details click here.

* Great meals in Paris don’t have to be expensive. Parisians do it every day…pay less. Learn how.

* The Insider Guide for Novelists, Journalists, Poets, Dreamers and Doers Alike!


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