Monday, November 5, 2012

French coffee bars and cafes

Cafe de Flore, Paris
Let's talk about French cafes and coffee bars.

I have to say that in general coffee bars in Nice took me some getting used to.   One doesn't find the same warm ambiance or the same quality of coffee even(Malongo excepted) that one finds in Paris, Seattle or Milan and we are one of the largest French cities.     

Grand Cafe de Lyon, Nice

 And those iconic Parisian cafes which we see featured in all the old films.... have all but disappeared since I have lived here.  
Le Grand Cafe de Lyon on Jean Medecin is the only Parisian style cafe left in Nice and the high price for a cup includes the privilege of sitting along the tramway to "people watch".

  The rest of the ourdoor coffee house on Jean Medecin have been replaced in the last couple of years by grotty little snack bars with picnic chairs and sad looking baguette sandwiches and sodas.

No, the cafes that are here are hardly along the lines of  Les Deux Magot or Cafe Flore or other "Parisien" landmarks,  but a few of them do have character.  

 My favorite coffee bar with charm is off the Zone PiĆ©ton on rue Massenet and was started by Italians.   Even here there is a big tv wide screen with it's incessant MTV offering.   (What... do merchants think...that we will perish if we are allowed to think our own thoughts.)  But the coffee is fine and it is a quiet enough place to read or chat with a friend and the waiters are attentive.  

Many restaurants have a nice quiet time to have a cup of coffee between meal serving times , but the most frequented coffee bars are located in a square where one can watch the world go by.  Usually for the establishment to afford the space,  lunch or other offerings are on the "carte".

The background music is often a deterrent for me in the Nicois coffee bar.  Virgin Records is unreliable if you don't want acid rock or Mongolian folk songs with your java even though they have a nice eating area on the top floor.   For music stores I prefer the bar in FNAC in Nice as they have a more bookish atmosphere and you are less likely to have raucous music to contend with.  ( There are even free public toilets there which is a rare find. )  

  I am not unduly fond of Seattle's Starbucks but the chain has some attractions that other American cafes have followed: American coffee houses have the coziness factor which means comfortable chairs; a warm welcoming, non smoking atmosphere;  subtle but decent music ;  and no wide screen on the wall.  It helps that friendly young people serve the coffee as well.

The thing that stands out for me about local coffee bars in Nice is that they are not conducive to lingering.  One feels very exposed as opposed to enclosed.  

   What you will get here in France are cafe tables a few inches from one another and variations of the straight backed chair.   If you don't like ambient smoke,  better to go inside with the wide-screen.   There will be no armchair to loll in while you log onto wifi.    There will be no feeling of privacy for a conversation.

But if you are immersed in the culture over here, you wouldn’t even like American coffee bars.  Many of them would feel too soft, too personal, and way too commercial.  

 And if you want to enjoy a cigarette alone, to pause over a cup of coffee and watch the square ,  French cafes are perfect.  They have an old world authenticity to them.

 It's "horses for courses".

No comments:

Post a Comment