Le Procope - History and Facts | History Hit

Le Procope

Chris Smith

24 Aug 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Le Procope

The oldest café in Paris, Café Procope is steeped in history as the meeting point of the intellectual establishment for over 330 years, and now an essential destination for tourists.

History of Café Procope

Founded by Sicilian chef Procopio Cutò in 1686, Procope was France’s first establishment to call itself a café, serving coffee and Italian gelatos to the public. Cutò installed features now standard in European cafés such as chandeliers, mirrors, and marble tables.

When the Comédie-Française theatre group moved to its second theatre across from the café, Procope attracted Europe’s intelligentsia, and soon became Paris’ first literary coffeehouse.

The café was the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, a hugely influential text edited by Denis Diderot that represented Enlightenment thought. The Phrygian cap which became the symbol of Liberty, was first displayed at Le Procope, as the café earned a reputation for fomenting revolutionary ideas.

The café’s influential historical patrons include Voltaire, Frédéric Chopin, Maximilien Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo, Benjamin Franklin, Honoré de Balzac, and Jean-Jacques Rosseau.

While Procope is often called ‘the world’s oldest café in continuous operation’, a brief stint between 1872 when the original café closed and was replaced by a private artists club, then restaurant, undermines this claim. In the 1920s, it was once again opened as a café – Au Grand Soleil – and then later renamed Café Procope.

Café Procope Today

After changing hands, and its appearance, several times throughout the centuries, Procope underwent a major refurbishment in 1988. The café was decorated in an 18th-century style with Pompeian red walls, crystal chandeliers, a piano, and waiters dressed in revolutionary uniforms.

Oval portraits and plaques commemorating famous former patrons now adorn the walls, with each room named after historical figures who once graced the café, including Chopin and Voltaire. Buy a coffee and then walk around the impressive building, literally following in the footsteps of the great and the good of Parisian society throughout the centuries.

Getting to Café Procope

Le Procope is a two-minute walk from Odéon métro station, which can be accessed via lines 4 and 10, and a 11-minute walk from the Luxembourg RER station.

Other nearby tourist attractions include the Fontaine Saint-Michel, the Palais de Luxembourg, the Musée Eugène Delcroix, and the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe meaning you can really make a day of it when venturing to Paris’ sixth district.

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