Food

Le Procope: A Paris Dining Experience with a Side of French History

by Emily Dilling

HiP Paris blog. A Paris dining experience with a side of French history at Le Procope. Look out the window on Paris of the present from Paris of the past.

It’s an absolute delight that, even after living here for almost a decade, Paris still surprises me. Sometimes the surprises are unwelcome; Parisians living up fully to their reputation of rudeness, the extent to which dealing with administration here can be Kafkaesque, or having a pigeon swan dive you as you ride your bike up Boulevard Barbès, to name a few. But most often these surprises are the kind that remind me why I moved my life to Paris.

Le Procope, a restaurant located in the touristy Odéon area, was my most recent unexpected discovery and a perfect example of how Paris is a city of hidden treasures. Founded in 1686, the site holds the honor of being the city’s oldest café. In fact, it was the first respectful address in Paris where you could get a coffee in good company, thanks to founder Francesco Procopio. A native Italian, Procopio came to France at an early age and, much like your average expat blogger today, got totally into the food scene. Coffee had arrived in France from the Middle East in 1644 and small coffee shops opened in Paris from that time on. Cutting his teeth at one of these early cafés, Procopio set out on his own, buying up several houses on the block where Le Procope still stands.

HiP Paris blog. A Paris dining experience with a side of French history at Le Procope. The epitome of Parisian elegance.

The café quickly became a favorite address among local politicians and writers. Voltaire, Hugo, Balzac, and Rousseau were just some early regulars of this wildly popular café littéraire. Other customers of note are listed on a commemorative plaque at the entrance to the restaurant, but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you stopped your visit there.

Le Procope is now a full-service restaurant, but it is also a part-time museum, with each room telling a story, each wall proudly displaying historical documents. From the Age of Enlightenment to the French Revolution, Le Procope tells an intimate story of people who changed history. Napoleon’s hat (which he gave to the restaurant upon realizing he was short on cash to pay for his meal once), the final letters between Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, Voltaire’s marble top desk, and revolutionary wallpaper from 1830 are some of the fascinating artifacts you’ll discover as you visit the restaurant.

HiP Paris blog. A Paris dining experience with a side of French history at Le Procope. The selections du moment.

HiP Paris blog. A Paris dining experience with a side of French history at Le Procope. Sumptuous details in the dining room.

Classified as a historic monument, the decor of Le Procope remains unchanged year after year, protected from any modifications by order of the French government. As a result, the interior remains an intact and authentic representation of revolutionary era France. Each room is dedicated to a guest of honor – Marat, Chopin, and Diderot have dining rooms in their names. An imposing bust of Benjamin Franklin observes the goings on in his eponymous salle, which is located next to Lafayette’s room, which is said to be where the two influential revolutionaries first met.

The food at Le Procope is not drool-inducing and the prices are even above average for the neighborhood, but if you are interested in sitting a spell and soaking up centuries of history, it is well worth stopping by for a spot of tea and a slice of pie. You’ll be in good company.

HiP Paris blog. A Paris dining experience with a side of French history at Le Procope. Experience coffee or teatime like the Parisians have for over 300 years.

Le Procope – 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, 75006. Tel: +33 (0)1 40 46 79 00. Métro: Odéon.

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Written by Emily Dilling for the HiP Paris Blog. All photos by Isabel Miller-Bottome. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

Written By

Emily Dilling

Emily Dilling is a France based writer and author of My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes. In 2005 Emily moved to Paris from her native California and began exploring the cities markets, restaurants, and cafés. In 2010 she founded the blog Paris Paysanne, where she writes about her favorite addresses and artisans in the city. Emily currently lives in the Loir-et-Cher region of France, where she writes and works in the grapevines. View Emily Dilling's Website
Photos By

Isabel Miller-Bottome

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Isabel moved to Paris after graduating from UC Santa Barbara. Her poetry and articles have been published by The Catalyst, Into the Teeth of the Wind, Spectrum Literary Journal, The Daily Nexus, The Culture Trip, and the HiP Paris Blog. View Isabel Miller-Bottome's Website

2 comments on “Le Procope: A Paris Dining Experience with a Side of French History

A French Frye in Paris

Wow great article! I learned some things I didn’t know about this cafe. Do you happen to know where the Marie Antoinette letters are in the restaurant? Have you seen them for real? I’ve also heard of a bit of Chopin sheet music adorning the walls, but I’ve yet to locate it!

Oh Lordy, names from my past ! 🙂
We went to La Procope sooo many years ago on one of my first trips to Paris with my husband who used to live there.

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