It’s impossible to imagine Paris without cafés and bistros—and its famous café culture: sitting at a terrace table sipping an espresso or glass of wine, and watching the world go by. The art of flanerie—aimless strolling or lounging—has been extolled for nearly 200 years, from Baudelaire to Balzac, and it’s the right of every Parisian. Cafés have always been essential gathering places where great minds philosophize and debate, works of art have been created, and even history has been made.
But despite the popularity of cafés, they are closing. France has seen a steady decline in the number of cafés overall—from 200,000 nationwide in 1960 to about 35,000 today. In Paris, some sources cite* that the number of cafés has dwindled from 45,000 in 1880 to around 7,000 (some say 5,000)—and more cafés are closing every month. But why?
Declining populations in small towns has had an affect on café closures nationwide. In Paris, changing tastes contribute to a small degree, but the bigger culprit seems to be rising rents and unchecked gentrification. With few safeguards in place to protect small businesses, café owners are struggling to keep afloat. Recently, the city approached UNESCO for World Heritage designation of bistros in Paris. Cafés could use that boost, too.
Why Cafés Matter
The neighborhood café is a vital part of local community life. Often unpretentious and affordable, they are inclusive public houses serving people from all walks of life—and that’s important. In a city where people live in tiny apartments, cafés serve as our living rooms, our offices, and our connection to the larger world. But with a surge of pricey, trendy restaurants in Paris as part of the sweeping gentrification of its neighborhoods, and the current obsession with Brooklyn-style coffee houses, the Paris café is in danger of disappearing—and with it, Paris’s unique café culture.
In an increasingly harried and insecure world, the ease and warmth of café life is more necessary than ever—and an inextricable part of Parisian and French life. Unlike many new establishments intended for the solitary client with a computer, or for a quick get in/get out, cafés are social in nature—and even in a busy city like Paris, they still fill up with locals looking to share de bons moments with each other.
Save the Paris Café Celebrates Paris Café Culture
We’re not anti-“new” Paris. Every city needs to be progressive in trends and ideas. Save the Paris Café believes that Paris should move forward, but not by blind appropriation or an erasure of its own uniqueness. The traditional Parisian café still has a place in a modern city, alongside co-working spaces and the new-style coffee house, because it serves a unique purpose.
We seek to celebrate what’s special about café culture, work with café owners to help them innovate with the times and remain relevant, as well as encourage city government to support local business owners, preserving cafés by helping them thrive.
This site is the home of the Paris café.
We’ll be featuring local cafés around Paris (you’ll be able to nominate your local fave!), writing about café life, and creating initiatives to promote the café culture of Paris—and France. Stay tuned for much more to come!
To learn more about us and our mission go here.
*Real current stats are hard to come by. We’ve used a variety of sources, including: Rick Tulka as quoted in “The Creative Life of the Parisian Cafe,” CBS News; and “France Fears Death of Village Life as Cafés Call Last Orders,” The Guardian.