France in general and Paris more specifically are well-known for their gastronomy. Yet, in the capital of France the choices for finding reasonable and good places to eat is really wide and not always easy.
This is why I would like to recommend you today four famous places and affordable brasserie located in historical areas of Paris. The origin of the word brasserie probably stems from the fact that beer was brewed on the premises rather than brought in: thus an inn would brew its own beer as well as supply food and invariably accommodation too.
Today it refers to a restaurant often open continuously, at least until “after-show”, possibly day and night which can continuously receive dozens or even hundreds customers! The four selected here are among the top Parisian ones, as for the decoration, the history and the menus, blogs Didier Moinel Delalande.
The name Bouillon first appeared in 1855 when Pierre-Louis Duval, a shrewd independent butcher, started serving up meat in a special stew to the people who worked in Paris’ Halles marketplace. His concept was so popular it soon attracted copycats and became well-known throughout the Gallic capital. By the turn of the century, there were almost 150 ‘bouillons’ in Paris. The Racine Bouillon opened its doors in 1906, at the same time as the ‘Bouillon Chartier’ on Boulevard du Montparnasse. The two brasseries adopted the Art Nouveau style so firmly associated with the time; paneling and ceramic tiles interspersed with mirrors and glass reverse-painted with flowery designs. In 1962, the establishment was sold to the Sorbonne University and turned into a canteen for professors and administrative staff.
It continued to run in this fashion – functionally, but without the preening enjoyed by luxury buildings – until 1993. Then, in 1996, a large renovation project was undertaken by the artisans of the Compagnons du Devoir organisation, calling upon age-old expertise and using techniques and actions that had been all but lost. Chiseled woodwork, opaline and painted glass, beveled mirrors, marble mosaics, and gold-leaf lettering restored a forgotten ambiance to the building. Finding the charm of yore reborn in this restaurant makes it a wonderfully warm place to be. After all the work carried out to restore and improve the ‘Racine’, it became a listed building. The subtle mix of classic cuisine and entirely contemporary dishes is striking, in a setting that is so traditional. This place is well worth discovering, as much for its architecture as for the food on offer.
3 Rue Racine, 75006 Paris
+33 1 44 32 15 60
Le Bouillon Chartier
The queue barely ever disperses and the influx of tourists is never-ending, which is what makes the place so appealing. In 1896, two brothers, Frédéric and Camille Chartier created a brasserie named ‘Le Bouillon‘ inside a railway station concourse. This establishment, located in a lively area of Paris in the middle of the 9th arrondissement, not far from the Grands Boulevards, the Musée Grévin and the Hôtel Drouot, is firmly entrenched in the capital’s culinary tradition. Today, after over a century of trade, the restaurant can boast of only ever having had four owners. The building’s conservation and Art Deco design enabled it to become a listed building in 1989.
One of the two brothers also created the ‘Racine’ soup kitchen. As a point of interest, an old postcard shows another façade bearing the name of ‘Chartier’ on Rue de la Fidélité in the 10th arrondissement, which may have been opened concurrently. The restaurant’s philosophy was to offer a hearty meal at a modest price – a philosophy that continues today. The setting itself has changed very little since its creation, too. After walking through the revolving door and under the vast, magnificent glass roof, you will find the same sideboards where regulars used to store their napkins, tables and chairs typical of old-fashioned bistros, embroidered tablecloths, and copper luggage racks like the ones on trains: in short, everything you need for a perfect bouillon! You can go there for lunch and then enjoy a stroll around the streets and alleys in the vicinity as you digest your meal. Fans of the restaurant will also love its excellent website, where various anecdotes are published.
7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 Paris
+33 1 47 70 86 29
Le Grand Colbert
Paris’ brasseries are a part of the capital’s heritage and continue to thrive to this day. Countless famous men and women have chattered and squabbled in these establishments which have become iconic. Here is the story of Le Grand Colbert. Built in 1637 by Guillaume de Serrant based on plans by Le Vau, the building started out as a private mansion. It was sold to Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1665, then to Philippe of Orleans in 1719. It was occupied by the state’s debt repayment body until it was sold again in 1825. At this point, the mansion was torn down to make way for the current building and for the opening of the Galerie Colbert in 1828. At the time, the Galerie Colbert was to compete with the neighboring Galerie Vivienne.
Under Louis Philippe, a shop called “Au Grand Colbert” was created, and when the building was turned into a restaurant in 1900, this name was kept. Until its closure a few years ago, it was one of the most affordable bouillons, or soup kitchens, in Paris. It was on the initiative of the National Library, the owner of the premises, that it was renovated down to the tiniest details in 1985 – at the same time as the Galerie Colbert. In the main room of the brasserie, which is impressive in its architectural richness, there are walls six metres high and various relics, including ornate pilasters and console tables. These days Le Grand Colbert is a listed building and has been masterfully run by Joël Fleury and his team of professionals since 1992. Together, they welcome and serve a cosmopolitan crowd including stage and film actors, supermodels, designers, businessmen, tourists and the old regulars. The diversity of the restaurant’s clientele is what makes it a true Parisian brasserie. History is an innate element of the restaurant’s identity, and the moment you step inside, you have the impression that you are part of its ongoing, idyllic story.
2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris
+33 1 42 86 87 88
Le Café du Commerce
In the same vein as Le Grand Colbert, Le Café du Commerce is a legendary highlight of the 15th arrondissement and one of the things that made Le Motte Piquet area renowned. The café opened in 1921 and fits right into the Parisian landscape as a typical brasserie. You used to be able to order a generous serving of beef stew, which is where it got its nickname “bouillon” (“soup hall”).The minute you walk through the door, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a strange little universe, completely closed off from the outside world, where time stands still for a moment. The Bordeaux leather immediately gives the place a warm, muted feel. The green plants strewn around the restaurant’s walls contribute a touch of life and a colorful atmosphere. Look up and you’ll be surprised to see the sky through the immense glass roof that towers over the building.
The place attracts a constant stream of tourists eager to discover French culinary traditions, but also plenty of faithful locals who, from generation to generation, have continued to choose the restaurant as their “local” since its creation. The food on offer is traditional Parisian brasserie fare: duck tournedos, warm goat’s cheese salad, andouillette, and other local dishes. Another element that makes this brasserie unique, though, is that you can buy oysters at the entrance and have them prepared before your eyes to take home or to enjoy inside. The charm of the establishment is complete and unspoiled, caught between past and present. Come at the weekend with family or friends, and enjoy to your heart’s content.
51 Rue du Commerce, 75015 Paris
+33 1 45 75 03 27