The title of this post can be the subject of much debate, so suffice it to say that these are my own personal favorite historic bistros in Paris, and I welcome your additions. Read on and then post your likes and dislikes on Facebook, and let’s share the wealth.
Brasserie Flo is owned by a large group, so I am reticent to put it down, but the atmosphere is 100 percent classic Alsatian brasserie. While it can be fairly tripisty, the service is friendly and the food dependable. In fact, it’s the first historic bistro that launched the Brasserie Flo group, which now owns many historic bistros and brasseries in Paris and beyond. I particularly enjoy when the old piano/accordion player starts up so the crowd can enjoy some French/Alsatian music from back in the day. This is the place to have the classics like escargot, oysters from Normandy, French onion soup, choucroute or sole meunière.
Julien, which is also part of the Flo group and in the 10th Arrondissement like Brasserie Flo, is a cathedral to art nouveau with its murals of ladies representing the four seasons. It’s as if you’ve been set back in time to 1908, and women’s hats still hang on the coatrack, and somehow the women have mysteriously all gone off to powder their noses. This place, which also tends to be tripisty, is nevertheless extremely friendly, and it’s open almost every day of the year. It will give you that unmistakable feeling that you’ve landed in Paris. Not to be missed are the profiteroles with Valrhona hot chocolate sauce, which your waiter will pour with a flourish from a silver kettle.
Aux Lyonnais is an old bistro renovated and redone perfectly by none other than Alain Ducasse and his team right in the center of the 2nd Arrondissement. Service is excellent and the food superb. This is a fresh take on the classics: charcuterie and terrines that are to die for, frog’s legs that anyone will love and steak that is perfectly seared. I can’t think of enough superlatives to recommend this place. And be sure to check out the cool tiles on the wall. You just can’t beat the patina of 100-year-old decor.
La Fontaine de Mars
Everyone you’ll ever send to La Fontaine de Mars seems to walk out happy. The same can be said for President Barak Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, when they dined here. Red-checked tablecloths, check; duck confit, check; foie gras, check; quintessential bistro decor with red banquettes in an upscale neighborhood, done; in the same location since 1908, you bet. My husband loves this place, I think, better than any other in Paris for the tradition and ambience.
Café de la Paix
For a good lunch place, or pre- or post-opera stop, check out Café de la Paix, mentioned as the place tout le monde took tea in one of the Somerset Maugham novels I’ve read. This is the café inside the Grand hotel next to the opera house, and unlike most hotel restaurants, it’s probably even more famous than the hotel itself. Again, you’ll see red, but this time red velvet instead of red banquettes, and the little bar is perfect for a glass of champagne before going to the ballet next door. A casual coffee or croque-monsieur can be had on the enclosed terrace, or a proper and well-prepared lunch can be enjoyed in the dining room.
A little extra: Le Grand Véfour can’t be left out. It’s where Napoleon and Josephine dined, dating back to the 1700s, and it sits in the impeccable Palais Royal with two Michelin stars. But history and a meal can be expensive here, starting at more than $100 per person at lunch and up to $300 at dinner, and that doesn’t include wine.