CAFES OF PROVENCE
Welcome to a sophisticated lifestyle.
Members of these almost-forgotten establishments were mostly local working men and artisans, who would meet in these small club houses to discuss the values of the French Republic, whilst sipping cheap drinks, and worrying over the threats posed by the church, surviving royalists and the Prussian menace.
Once, the Cercle Républicains thrived throughout France, but especially in Provence. At one point there were over 700 in the southern department of Vaucluse alone. In the tiny village of Gordes, with a population of just 2,000, there used to be thirteen Cercle Republicains, such was their popularity.
Today however there are sadly just twenty six left in all of France.The Cercle Républicain in Gordes was voted into being in April 1912. To venture inside today, you still have to become a member. The €5 ‘carte annuelle’ membership fee however is a small price to pay for what lies inside.
The hundred year old bar leads onto a small balcony that commands breathtaking views over the valley below. The Cercle Républicain de Gordes is plainly decorated, and filled with mostly elderly villagers, quietly enjoying their subsidised drinks.
Indeed not much seems to have changed inside a Cercle Républicain from a scene recorded by Eugen Weber in his book Peasants Into Frenchmen, where he describes one sequestered away in a quiet side street in Carpentras, just north of Avignon; “Around a table sit a dozen peasants, their staffs beside them, drinking their coffee. A handsome young man….reads aloud an article from the Monarchist newspaper. He stops at almost every sentence to explain it in Provençal……here is the urban club at work.”
Today, just as in 1912, the Cercle Républicain in Gordes provides privacy, easy access to newspapers, and perhaps above all, cheaper drinks and longer opening hours than the other bars in the picturesque mountain top village.
But the century old rules still apply – there is still a voted in president, vice president, secrétaire and trésorier.
Clancy's comment: I'm interested in becoming a member.