In the search for the best café, it makes sense to start at the beginning. Dating back to 1686, Le Procope is said to be the oldest café in Paris, having been established just in time to offer Parisians a new and rare delicacy that had arrived into town: coffee.
A table in this place feels like renting a step back in time toward the image we all have of old-world Paris: elegance, class, and floods of caffeinated fluids. The décor has been noticeably preserved in the style of the old days to help facilitate the journey.
For centuries Le Procope was a common haunt for many a philosopher, writer, and dignitary. To put it in context, a frequent patron was the playwright Molière, considered by the French to be their Shakespeare. Other notables included Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and the famous French philosopher Voltaire who reportedly maintained a 40-cup/day coffee habit.
The historical breadth of the café reaches further in fact, as Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were known to visit often. Franklin came to Paris as a bit of a celebrity, fresh on the heels of the Declaration of Independence’s signing. For a society chomping at the bit to gain their own liberty (the French Revolution would start 13 years later), he was received by Parisians as something of a rock star. So much so that after his death, Le Procope did something it’d never done before: shut its doors in mourning and draped the entire café in black.
And as if that wasn’t enough history for one café, as you enter on the left sits a cloth military hat encased in glass, left many years ago by a young ambitious French soldier by the name of Napoleon.
If ever there were a reason to overpay for a cup of joe, this place has plenty. Take your pick.
And order the Chocolat Viennois.