At Le Procope, the first literary coffeeshop was born:Paris’ Left Bank area is full of interesting and historical coffeehouses and cafés and one of the most fascinating must be Café Procope. It claims to be oldest coffeehouse in the world.
Le Procope is in rue de l’Anciennne Comédie which was previously called rue de Saint-Germain. It was founded in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a Sicilian from Palermo. With its close proximity to the old Comédie-Francaise and a reputation for the excellent quality of its beverages, the popularity of the coffeehouse took off.
Café Procope very soon became a meeting place for the city’s politicians, actors from the Comédie-Francaise and especially the literary elite. According to Francesco Procopio, the “first literary coffee-shop was born“.
The First Literary Coffee-Shop
For more than two centuries everyone who was anyone (including those aspiring to become someone) in the world of the arts, letters and politics frequented Café Procope. Its patrons included Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Verlaine and Hugo and the list of the regulars at the coffeehouse reads like a who’s who in world of the French literary elite. If it’s at all possible to drink so much coffee without suffering from caffeine poisoning, Voltaire supposedly drank 40 cups of his favourite coffee brew and chocolate everyday!
Paris in the 18th century had become the centre of the new art movement and the heart of Romanticism and Le Procope was probably one of the locations where many of the new liberal philosophy was discussed and debated by the likes of Diderot, Voltaire, d’Alembert and Benjamin Franklin.
A Meeting Place during the Revolution
According to Café Procope’s literature, the history of Café Procope is closely linked with the 18th century enlightenment movement. During the French Revolution Robespierre, Dantan, and Marat used the café as a meeting place as did the young lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte who would leave his hat there as security while he went out in search of money to pay his café bill.
Café Procope was renovated in 1989 and maintains the style of the 18th century. There are two floors – the long and narrow downstairs dining room is decorated in red and gold with inlaid tile floors and cut-glass chandeliers. The upstairs is more elaborate with mirrors and oil paintings. Voltaire’s table is still there providing links to its distinguished past.
These days the Café still attracts a mix clientele of writers, journalists, university professors, businessmen and some tourists. The menu is interesting and the prices won’t break the bank, but most of all the history of the place is priceless.
13 rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie