La Taverne Henry IV
13, Place du Pont Neuf, in the 1st Arrondissement. 01 43 54 27 90.
Open Mon–Sat, lunch and dinner; closed Sunday.
Opened in 1885, La Taverne Henry IV is one of the oldest wine bars still serving in Paris today. And while the food is fresh, the recipes have changed little, with traditional dishes like escargots, charcuterie and savory pies filling the brief, enriched by a pair of daily offerings on the ardoise. Although the menu is small, the portions are huge, guests leaving with the words “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” competing for space with the crumbs on their lips. There are fresh desserts of the day, and being a Paris wine bar with the owner’s name stenciled proudly on the door, it also offers a wine of the day.
Located on the tip of the Ile de la Cité, facing the statue of Henri IV between the two parts of the Pont Neuf, La Taverne is in the geographical heart of the city. It is a casual, tiny little Paris wine bar where regulars head for an honest meal. And it better be honest: with its proximity to the Palais de Justice, the Préfecture de Police and the Hôtel-Dieu hospital (next door), the locals can accept nothing less.
The place hasn’t been redecorated since the 1970s, except for the curtains that run the entire length of a wall, just above the booth seating, appearing bright, clean and crisp. Looking at the wooden bar cluttered with memorabilia, the observant visitor will notice that the owner loves rugby, with a strong partiality for the team from Toulon. Taking cues from the horseshoe and the French blue-enamel address plaque with the number 13 on it, you’ll also assume that he is slightly superstitious. And you’ll know that he’s generous when you see regulars invited up to the bar for a little prune after the meal—une petite prune being a shot of incredibly flavorful Armagnac that is likely to burn a hole right through your overfull stomach.
And what is it that has guests so satiated? Beyond the classic Paris wine bar menu of light fare, on our last visit there were cèpe mushroom raviolis, goose confit, chicken steaks and stuffed cabbage, with rich sauces accompanying each dish.
For dessert there was a house-made tarte tatin, baba au rhum and my personal favorite, a café gourmand. The café gourmand is a fairly recent trend. It includes a postmeal espresso served with a plate of mini desserts. It is likely to contain a small chocolate mousse, a miniature rice pudding, a Lilliputian éclair, a tiny baba and a little cookie. It’s all the joy of a dessert buffet but without the guilt!
These dishes are made by artisans without the resources to prepare everything from scratch, yet with the desire to serve their customers food that will keep them wanting to come back. And with nearly 130 years of service, it’s a formula that seems to work.
In a nutshell: light little snacks or a good hearty meal with an excellent selection of wines served to a local crowd.
Price check: mains, €15; desserts, €7.
If you like the sound of La Taverne Henry IV, you’ll love le Porte-Pot. Read the review.
14, rue Boutebrie, in the 5th Arrondissement. 01 43 25 24 24.
Tues–Fri, lunch and dinner; Sat, dinner only.