Historic Café #4: Café Procope

procope historical cafe

The very first literary cafe in the world, Café Procope is among the best historical cafés on the map.  Located in Paris, it is said that when Italian chef, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, opened this café in 1686, European coffee culture was born.

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Located in a passageway near Paris Mabillion metro station in the entre of the Latin quarter, Café Procope’s unsuspecting exterior hides a history rich with culture, stories and significance.

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It all started in 1686, when a Sicilian chef opened his café on a street that, back then, was called rue des Fossés Saint-Germain. While the main delicacy served was Italian sorbet, he also offered his guests the new brew recently discovered on colonial expeditions: coffee. 

Although it was an immediate favorite among locals, it grew in popularity when, in 1689, the Ancienne Comédie Française theatre opened nearby. With the theater came a flock of new guests, all cultured in the arts, who used the café as a space for debates and artistic discussions before and after the shows.

Through the years the walls of the café have housed countless giants in the art and literature spheres. Legend has it that in 1752, French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau fled to café Procope during the premier of his play Narcisse as he was positive it would garner a negative response and needed a place to wallow in his defeat.

He was only one on a long list of writers, philosophers and satirists who used café Procope as a sanctuary.

Supposedly, Voltaire would frequent the café on a regular basis and spend hours engaging in coffee fueled debates. The author of Candid apparently drank as many as 40 cups a day! (though lovers of literature are certainly not surprised to hear as such considering his wacky and wonderful prose). His favorite table sits as a monument in the café until today, decorated with candelabras and pages of the authors work, honoring his name.

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Café Procope also played a role during the French Revolution. Leaders the likes of Robespierre, Danton and Marat are said to have met in this café as they hatched the revolt. Indeed Café Procope did not shy away from taking a stand on French politics itself- It’s well-known that the cafe was one of the first places to display the pointed hat, known as the Phrygian cap, which would later be used to symbolize anti-monarchy liberty.

Whether you are passionate about literature or a coffee lover, this café should be on your radar when visiting Paris. Apart from the history the cuisine also has rave reviews. Although the food is mainly French cuisine, many dishes have an Italian twist to pay homage to the original founder. Tempting dishes include Normandy grilled rib steak with black pepper, smoked mackerel with dill, French duck, or shellfish seafood platters to name a few.

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The café has been renovated multiple times since it was first established. While some lament that the coffee house has lost its simplistic interior and plain charm for its kitschier design, the historical legacy is real and draws in customers far and wide.

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