For Centuries, Le Procope Has Been a Meeting Place for the Literary Elite and Politicians:
The times when we’ve strolled down the Cour du Commerce Saint André, a small cobbled pedestrian street of in the Latin Quarter, we’ve always stopped by the rear façade of Le Procope, one of the famous restaurants in Paris. It’s not dinner time and no, it’s not the prospect of a hearty French meal that stops us in our tracks here, but the portraits of prominent Parisians and others that grace the windows of Le Procope. Robespierre, Benjamin Franklin, Alexis Piron were some of the famous personalities who frequented Café Procope and created French history within the walls of the restaurant.
An Invite to Visit Le Procope
Le Procope is the oldest café in Paris and we just love the history of the establishment. As we waited for the perfect moment to take our shot of the windows, the sous-chef began chatting to us. He was just finishing his break before preparations for the busy evening began and he invited us into the restaurant to see all the rooms and to take pictures of the place. The restaurant’s management team were just gathering for their meeting before the start of the evening trade and normally we would expect that visitors would not be welcomed at this time. Thanks to the sous-chef who paved the way for us, we were given free access to explore the restaurant on our own.
The Oldest Paris Café
When Italian Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli started his café in 1686, coffee was an exotic drink at that time and the high quality of his beverages attracted the ‘gentlemen of fashion’ to his establishment. Then came the Comédie Francaise, which was established across the road from Café Procope in 1989, and the café then became known as the “café of wits”.
Throughout the 18th century Café Procope also became the haunt of the literary elite and anyone who was anyone in the literary world would gather here. With patrons like Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Verlaine and Hugo, Café Procope soon established its reputation as the first literary café in Paris.
Café Procope was totally refurbished in 1988 and as we walked upstairs, its plush carpets, red walls and crystal chandeliers paint a picture of its 18th-century grandeur. On the wall at the top of the staircase are copies of royal decrees, declarations and records of historical events of the time.
Voltaire must have spent a lot of time at Le Procope as he has his very own a desk here, which you can still see in one of the little rooms. If you believe the stories, Voltaire is said to have drunk forty cups of coffee a day – a good customer for the café.
Age of Englightenment
In the 18th century, many liberal ideas were thrashed out and took their development in Le Procope. Café Procope became a meeting place of the Enlightenment thinkers and as we stood in the private meeting room with a long table, it’s easy to imagine the animated discussions that would have taken place around the table. Diderot, who developed the Encyclopedia, was harassed and persecuted by the church, but he would have felt safe at Le Procope amongst like thinkers.
And it’s not just the French literary greats who met at Le Procope, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also spent time here and it is suggested that the U.S. Constitution may even have been partly developed within these walls.
Le Procope During the Revolution
During the French Revolution, Café Procope was once again a place of rendezvous. Robespierre, Danton and Marat, one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution, met here. And with the guillotines in Paris in overdrive, the atmosphere in Café Procope must have been electrifying at the time. The young Lieutenant Bonaparte was also a regular here and his famous hat, which you can see today, was left behind as a surety for his café bill.
A walk through the famous Cafe Le Procope, haunt of Voltaire and the oldest cafe in Paris
Even after the Revolution, Le Procope continued to be a meeting place of writers, philosophers, newspaper editors, social reformers and other well-known contemporary figures, and each of the prominent patrons will have an interesting story linked to Le Procope. We are indeed grateful to the sous-chef for inviting us into the restaurant to indulge in its history.
Food at this Famous Paris Restaurant
Le Procope serves traditional French cuisine and if Magret de canard du Sud-Ouest, Tête de veau en cocotte or Boeuf des “Révolutionnaires” makes your mouth water, Le Procope is a stylish restaurant where you can enjoy fine dining in a historical setting. The Salon Frédéric Chopin is an elegant dining room or if you like being outdoors, there are romantic tables for two on the balcony.
We’ve not managed to dine here as yet, but trust that the cuisine is every bit as delicious as its history.
13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie
Did I leave anything out?