Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Coq au vin at the oldest Café in Paris, The Café Procope 1686.

Le Procope: Best Coq au Vin ever!

Last Summer while on my month long vacation in France, I got a chance to eat at one of my favorite restaurants twice! My first visit I detected Alabama accents coming from the woman at the table next to me, when they noticed I spoke Southern as well, they asked where was I from. I replied Mobile, Alabama, They were from Fairhope just across the bay from Mobile. This was a first for me bumping into fellow Alabamians in France. When they found out I frequent the restaurant often and Paris for over 20 years they were full of questions about how to get to famous places!  I was very impressed with my waiter Kelvin, Although I only spoke a few words of French I have never been treated rude in the 20 years I have been going to France, as I hear a lot of Americans complain about the French. Anyway my waiter Kelvin impressed me so, He always kept a smile on his face and had the most agreeable attitude. I was surprised to find out he had only been working a few days at Café Procope.  I decided I would visit Kelvin and one of my favorite restaurants once more before my return to Creole New Orleans and asked Kelvin what days he worked. 

The first time I had Coq au Vin was in the Fall of 2001 on my two week stay in France. I decided to go to the French village of Rambouillet 30 miles outside of Paris, to see The Laiterie de la Reine, the Queen's Dairy. by the time I reached the village of Rambouillet by train around lunchtime, I was hungry. I stopped for a quick something to eat at a local pub. Not knowing a lot of French I could not make out much of what anything was on the menu. I told the waiter to bring me what everybody else seem to be enjoying at the restaurant, some kind of meat with potatoes. It was fabulous even though I did not know what I was eating. Until I got a piece that was shaped funny. I latter found out it was Coq au vin made of rooster in Burgundy wine sauce. 

The Café Procope, on rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, 6th arrondissement, is called the oldest restaurant of Paris in continuous operation. It was opened in 1686 by the Sicilian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, with a slyly subversive name adopted from the historian Procopius, whose Secret History, the Anekdota, long known of, had been discovered in the Vatican Library and published for the first time ever in 1623: it told the scandals of Emperor Justinian, his consort and his court.

The Coq au vin is served in a copper pot with French bread! 

The Café Procope, on the street then known as rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-des-Prés, started as a café where gentlemen of fashion might drink coffee, the exotic beverage that had previously been served in taverns, or eat a sorbet, served up in porcelain cups by waiters in exotic "Armenian" garb. The escorted ladies who appeared at the Café Procope in its earliest days soon disappeared. In 1689 the Comédie française was established across the street— hence the street's modern name— and the Procope became known as the "theatrical" café, and remained so: it was at the Procope on 18 December 1752 that Rousseau retired before the performance of his last play Narcisse had even finished, all too aware, now that he had seen it mounted, he said publicly, how boring it all was on the stage.

The tall handsome Kelvin my French waiter. 

It was the unexampled mix of habitués that surprised visitors, though no one remarked on the absence of women. Louis, chevalier de Mailly, in Les Entretiens des caffés, 1702, remarked:

The cafés are most agreeable places, and ones where one finds all sorts of people of different characters. There one sees fine young gentlemen, agreeably enjoying themselves; there one sees the savants who come to leave aside the laborious spirit of the study; there one sees others whose gravity and plumpness stand in for merit. Those, in a raised voice, often impose silence on the deftest wit, and rouse themselves to praise everything that is to be blamed, and blame everything that is worthy of praise. How entertaining for those of spirit to see originals setting themselves up as arbiters of good taste and deciding with an imperious tone what is over their depth!

The Café Procope is full of beautiful French antiques like Rousseau's 18th century marble top desk at Café Procope

 Throughout the 18th century, the brasserie Procope was the meeting place of the intellectual establishment, and of the nouvellistes of the scandal-gossip trade, whose remarks at Procope were repeated in the police reports. Not all the Encyclopédistes drank forty cups of coffee a day like Voltaire, who mixed his with chocolate, but they all met at Procope, as did Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones and Thomas Jefferson.

Alain-René Lesage described the hubbub at Procope in La Valise Trouvée (1772): "There is an ebb and flow of all conditions of men, nobles and cooks, wits and sots, pell mell, all chattering in full chorus to their heart's content." Indicating an increasingly democratic mix. Writing a few years after the death of Voltaire, Louis-Sébastien Mercier

Plaque on Rousseau's desk at Café Procope

All the works of this Paris-born writer seem to have been made for the capital. It was foremost in his mind when he wrote. While composing, he was looking towards the French Academy, the public of Comédie française, the Café Procope, and a circle of young musketeers. He hardly ever had anything else in sight.

Voltaire's desk at Café Procope

 During the Revolution, the Phrygian cap, soon to be the symbol of Liberty, was first displayed at the Procope; the Cordeliers, Robespierre, Danton and Marat all used the cafe as a meeting place. After the Restoration, another famous customer was Alexander von Humboldt, who lunched here during the 1820s every day from 11am to noon. The Procope retained its literary cachet: Alfred de Musset, George Sand, Gustave Planche, the philosopher Pierre Leroux, M. Coquille, editor of Le Monde, Anatole France were all regulars. Under the Second Empire, August Jean-Marie Vermorel of Le Reforme or Léon Gambetta would expound their plans for social reform.

The Café Procope was refurbished in 1988 to 1989 in 18th-century style. It received Pompeian red walls, crystal chandeliers, 18th century oval portraits of famous people that have been patrons, and a tinkly piano. The waiters were dressed in quasi-revolutionary uniforms.

Le Procope is in 18th century style

A engraving of Marie Antoinette saying farewell to her son, I own a copy of this early 19th century engraving. 

A bust of Voltaire

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.

18th Century French Louis XVI Giltwood Barometer.

18th Century French Louis XVI Giltwood Barometer.

A view of the outside balcony! 

I love the 18th century paintings displayed in this place! 

Le Procope is in 18th century style

Benjamin Franklin frequented Café Procope and created history within the walls of the restaurant.

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.

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.

French Revolution hand blocked wallpaper 

Café Procope was totally refurbished in 1988 and as I walked upstairs, its plush carpets, yellow 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.

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.

Le Procope is in 18th century style

In the 18th century, it was a seedbed for liberal ideas and the history of the Encyclopædia is intimately linked to that of Procope where Diderot, d’Alembert and Benjamin Franklin could be seen. During the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat met here and Lieutenant Bonaparte left his hat here as a pledge.

Napoleon's hat at Cafe Procope

Le Procope serves traditional French cuisine like Magret de canard du Sud-Ouest, Tête de veau en cocotte or Boeuf des “Révolutionnaires” and my favorite Coq au vin!  Le Procope is a stylish restaurant where you can enjoy fine dining in a historical setting. The restaurant is beautifully furnished with French antiques upstairs and down. I love the upstairs Salons and elegant dining rooms or if you like being outdoors, there are romantic tables for two on the balcony.


  1. Hello,

    So pleased to have discovered you blog today, and all because you left a comment on mine.

    I adore the Café Procope and remember with some fondness my visit there. When it was time for dessert to show up - a variety of ice cream samples - the café was the first place in France to serve it I believe), we were astounded. This was no ordinary "sample" size. Presented to us were three huge scoops to rival any I had seen back in America. It was more than any of us could handle I'm afraid.

    So pleased you enjoyed your visit there. Isn't walking through all the little dining rooms an absolute delight?

  2. Hi Chronica Domus, I have been enjoying your blog, your decorating and sense of style. Yes you are right Procope introduce ice cream to France. Sweets are my favorite and the last time I was there I had the most delicious Crème brûlée! I enjoy walking thru Procop as much as I enjoy the food!