The First Restaurant In Paris
This week, I lunched with old friend, Polly Platt, author of France’s number one book on cultural crossings “French or Foe” and her sequel “Savoir Flair” in a little bistrot named La Griaude well off the beaten track in the 11th arrondissement. It’s one of our mutual pastimes — to find the little corners of Paris only the locals could possibly know about — the insider information they prefer we keep confidential.
Eva Lee, author of “Crème de la Crème,” a column in our new online newsletter “Paris Insider” (coming next month), recommended this spot. She learned about it from an American friend who lives across the street on rue Taillandiers, a one-block long stretch between rue de Charonne and rue de la Roquette. La Griaude is at number 22, lace curtains in the windows, simply decorated as if nothing has changed in 100 years with wood tables and chairs, serves up “spécialités Bourguignonnes,” and offers a two-course lunch with wine at a whopping 10.50 euro! No, you’d likely never find it on your own.
It’s no wonder why the word “restaurant” is French. The French invented dining out. According to Warren and Jean Trabant, the original authors of “Paris Confidential,” the first restaurant was near the Louvre. The following in an excerpt from Paris Confidential:
With more than 5,000 restaurants in the city today, you will not find one in the ancient history of Paris. It was about 250 years ago that a caterer with a cooked-food stand defied city ordinances and the food syndicate laws by serving a bouillon soup (which was permitted) so thick it became a stew (which was not permitted). It was the shop of a Monsieur Boulanger and the year was 1765, a time when weak constitutions were fashionable amongst the aristocrats who ate little, complained and boasted the attractive pallor of the epoch. Mr. Boulanger thus called his thick soups restaurants (restorers), as they were meant to be medicinal remedies for the sick. He hung a sign above his shop in the rue des Poulies near the Louvre that read (in Latin): “Come to me all of you who are suffering with your stomach and I will restore you.” He was so successful that the laws were changed to allow solid food as well as soup to be consumed on the premises where it was cooked. Thus the restaurant was born.
The French, a loquacious race, found eating out much to their liking and the restaurant idea spread rapidly, not only for the convenience and the food, but also as a place for entertainment. The restaurant became a home away from home; clients had their own tables, their own napkins, and their “own” waiters in their favorite restaurants. As political tendencies solidified during those pre-Revolutionary days, the restaurant was also one of the sole social areas free of political control. (Theaters, for example, were often shut down because of ostensible political bias.) So it was in a restaurant where people could meet one another (women included), behave as they wished, and carry on political, literary and philosophical conversations in a warm, sometimes spacious environment not found in their generally dingy and poorly equipped homes. Traces of these traditions remain, creating a set of unwritten rules that increase the pleasure of eating in France.
Although neither Boulanger’s first restaurant nor those of his immediate successors survive, (due to the construction of the rue du Louvre) others opened similar institutions near the Palais Royal, one of which remains today: Le Grand Véfour at 17, rue de Beaujolais, originally the Café de Chartres and today a Michelin three-star whose reputation is upheld by star-chef Guy Martin. The most historic establishment within the Palais Royal gardens, Le Grand Véfour has hosted such luminaries as Napoleon and j2999ephine, Honoré de Balzac, George Sand and Victor Hugo.
Paris Confidential for Parler Paris
A la prochaine…
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P.S. Paris Confidential our newest publication, originally written by
Warren and Jean Trabant, rewritten and updated by Elizabeth Reichert. You will learn things about Paris you never expected to know…realizing the true depth of this magnanimous city. It is not sold in any bookstores. For more information or to get your copy, click here