The Café Scene

“The story of how Paris became what we now think of when somesays ‘Paris’ is the story of men and women who were able to reinvent the wheel in many different domains because they understood the fundamental importance of these two concepts: Stick to the high-end and forget the low. Never underestimate the importance of décor and ambiance. Take, for example, the café. The coffeehouse became an institution in England, the Netherlands, and Germany in the 1650s and 1660s. The original coffeehouses were fairly modest affairs; men frequented them to drink coffee and beer and to smoke. This concept had no appeal in France. And then, in 1675, the humble English coffeehouse was reinvented and quickly became an essential part of the new capital Paris was then becoming.

“Francesco Procopio transformed the coffeehouse; he made it exquisite. His peers referred to him as an ‘artist’: he had, after all, created the formula that made the café a way of life in Paris. Elsewhere, cafés featured nothing worthy of the name décor, whereas, at Café Procope, the tables were made of marble, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the walls were decorated with elegant mirrors, and coffee was served from silver pots. Beer was banished from these elegant surroundings; patrons sipped exotic cocktails instead. And they could snack on delicate pastries and sorbets in flavors such as amber and musk. The Procope, was, in short, the original chic café.

“Its example was quickly emulated: by the turn of the eighteenth century, the world’s first café scene had been created in the newly fashionable Saint-Gemain-des-Prés neighborhood. Parisian cafés attracted a very different clientele than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe–elegant women, who would never have set foot in a coffeehouse, frequented cafés to see and show off all the latest fashions.”

–de Jean, Joan. The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press, 2005.

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