La Procope Café: The Oldest Restaurant in Paris

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The oldest café in Paris is not just well-known because of its historical age. The historic La Procope café was a high-end dining establishment in its day. Famous names like Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, the U.S. ambassador Benjamin Franklin are known to have frequented the restaurant.

La Procope was originally opened in 1686 at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in the 6th arrondissement of Paris during the reign of Sun King Louis XIV. It’s owner was the Sicilian chef Procopio Cutò (who went by the French name “François Procope”).

It is sometimes called the oldest coffeehouse in France. Coffee was relatively new in France at the time. It is believed that the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (today Turkey), Muhammed IV sent his ambassador to Louis XIV’s court at Versailles with a sample of coffee.

From there, drinking a cup of coffee became “the thing to do”, with the French whole-heartedly adopting the drink.

The Procope café, located in the heart of the Left bank, between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, quickly became very popular. With its luxurious gold-guilted walls and interior furnishings, it attracted the French royals as well as nobility.

Portrait of US ambassador to France (future US founding father), Benjamin Franklin, in the window of La Procope
Portrait of US ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, in the window of La Procope

During the 1789 Revolution, revolutionaries like Robespierre, Danton and Marat all used the café as a meeting place. The Phrygian cap which became the French symbol of Liberty, was first displayed at the Procope.

La Procope also became a hub of the Parisian artistic and literary community in 18th and 19th centuries, like writers Voltaire, Jean la Fontaine, and Victor Hugo. The original café closed in 1872 (due to the Franco-Prussian war) and reopened in the 1920s after WWI.

A plaque at La Procope reads:

Café Procope. Here founded Procopio dei Coltelli in 1686 the oldest coffeehouse of the world and the most famous center of the literary and philosophic life of the 18th and 19th centuries.

It was frequented by La Fontaine, Voltaire and the Encyclopedistes: Benjamin Franklin, Danton, Marat, Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Gambetta, Verlaine and Anatole France.

Plaque at La Procope

Today, La Procope continues to serve traditional French dishes and remains a popular restaurant in the area. It is just footsteps away from the Assemblée Nationale and the Institute de Paris, attracting officials as well as tourists these days.

Menu of La Procope

On the menu are dishes like Coq au vin, steak tartare, and onion soup with an accompaniment of local French wines. If you are in the area, it is definitely worth a stop for historical buffs and food connoisseurs out there.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read more about what to do in the evening in Paris. A bientôt!

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