BARS OF PARIS
There was once a place that drew crowds of Parisians away from their grand boulevards and sidewalk cafés to rediscover their inner child, wine & dine in chestnut tree houses and celebrate summer like Robinson Crusoe.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a “guingette”, a sort of French equivalent to a summer hoedown, traditionally located next to the river and particularly popular in the the 19th and early 20th century, serving food and ample drinks, accompanied by lively music and dancing. Monet and Renoir immortalised such vibrant scenes in their paintings but it seems the most enchanting of these summer establishments has been long forgotten by Parisians.
Les Guinguettes de Robinson was the place to be in the summer of the 1850s. Parisians descended to the small district south of the city en masse to relax high up in the branches of chestnut trees and dance in the forest. It all began in 1848 in the hamlet of St. Eloi when an inkeeper was inspired by the popular myth of Robinson Crusoe.
He created a restaurant perched in an old Chestnut tree he called the Grand Robinson. It was an instant success and competing taverns and restaurants multiplied quickly, adopting the same Crusoe theme along the Rue Malabry. In 1888, “Le Grand Robinson”, not to be confused with “the Grand Arbre”, which set up shop just opposite, had to change its name to “Le Vrai Arbre de Robinson” (the Real Tree Robinson”), in order to set itself apart from the competition.
Customers in chestnut treehouses were served lunch of roast chicken and champagne, their meals hoisted up to them in baskets via rope pulley systems. In 1855, a food critic wrote that ‘lavish tables were set and lovebirds without feathers but forks in hand exchanged happy kisses in the breeze, witnessed only by the foliage’.
For Parisians who couldn’t flock to the seaside during the summer months (but could now escape the city thanks to the expansion of the “suburban” railway lines around Paris in the late 1850s), Les Guingettes de Robinson provided a uniquely enchanting and exotic summer adventure. For over a century, this Robinson Crusoe Village was a Parisian paradise.
Clancy's comment: Wow. Those were the days, eh?