Chocolate in Paris: A Revolution in Style
Is it a revolution from the world of chocolate in Paris? Yes! Parisians love the first “chocolate concept store.” From its name, Un Dimanche à Paris (One Sunday in Paris) right through its napkins, this is a real designer project. Proprietor Pierre Cluizel is a third-generation chocolatier, son of the eminent Michel Cluizel. He used the global marketing agency Dragon Rouge to realize this scheme—which aims to offer the ultimate in chocolates.
Cluizel is part of a generation critics call les choco-chics, connoisseurs for whom chocolate is an art form. Thus, his ambitious new premises house a bouquet of businesses. There is a salon du thé, an upscale boutique, a restaurant, a cocktail lounge—even a teaching kitchen. Chocolate, in some form or other, is part of everything offered. It can arrive as bonbons, as spice in your sauce or in a stylish apéro.
The lovers of chocolate in Paris (and few cities boast such fanatics) call this long, open space “the chocolate cruise ship.” Certainly, in an area bursting with competition—Patrick Roger, Pierre Marcolini, Debauve and Gallais, La Maison du Chocolat, Weiss, Georges Larnicol—it was imperative to try something different.
Part of the spot’s singularity is Quentin Bailly, a chocolate celebrity who supervises most creations. A protégé of world-champion pâtissier Philippe Rigollot, Bailly says the scheme lets him highlight all the contrasts he loves. He wants to remake the whole range of chocolate “classics.” His first success has been chocolate éclairs, but there are plenty of others on the way.
Anyone who visits, however, has to try one thing: a pot of the sinfully rich chocolat chaud for eight euros. Do this because having it here involves incredible ironies. Although most reviews concentrate on its décor, Cluizel’s shop front occupies a site absolutely central to the French Revolution.
It takes up three addresses—Nos. 4, 6 and 8—in the historic Cour du Commerce St.-André. This atmospheric passage, with its treacherous cobblestones, once ran right across the present-day boulevard St.-Germain. At No. 1 there lived the revolution’s Georges Danton (a spot marked today by his imposing statue). In what was then No. 8, Jean-Paul Marat printed his famous broadsheet L’Ami du Peuple (The Peoples’ Friend).
At No. 9, marked by a plaque, lived a harpsichord maker named Tobias Schmidt. Schmidt built, in his workshop at No. 19, the very first guillotine. It was tried out here, too, with a lamb as its victim. Every part Schmidt used was made by a craftsman in the Cour, with a locksmith at Cluizel’s address contributing. (This is one reason lamb with chocolate sauce is a menu highlight.)
Here, too, you can find Le Procope—the city’s oldest café—where the revolution’s leaders plotted over coffee.
They drank coffee, of course. For, in the Paris of that era, chocolate was the drink of aristocrats. It symbolized the ancien régime and the tastes of a ruling class. Cluizel makes it possible to sip Marie Antoinette’s drink in the very spot where the guillotine blade was forged.
Nor is that all the history inside Un Dimanche. The rounded stone tower around which its restaurant wraps belongs to the wall built around 1200 by Philippe Auguste (Philippe II). This protected Paris while Philippe fought in the Third Crusade. Again, it’s something to think about while you’re sampling fruits de mer with spicy vinaigrette containing African chocolate.
Even Cluizel’s cozy cocktail lounge has a past. This upstairs was once home to the reading club of Felicité Dupont. The widow of a famous revolutionary named Brissot, Dupont was herself famous for translating English playwrights. She was also pro-American and antislavery; Harvard professor Robert Darnton calls her “one of the first bohemians.”
So: Cluizel offers much more than just chocolate in Paris. He reinstates all the luxury of the royal family—but in the very place they lost their monopoly on it. When you appreciate this, you become that bit more Parisian.
Marie Antoinette’s chocolates are still available at Debauve and Gallais, the firm founded after the revolution by the royal family’s former chemist, Sulpice Debauve. It was he who created the pistoles, flavored chocolate wafers in which he disguised the taste of medicines he prescribed to the queen.
For a wonderfully atmospheric portrait of the era, watch Gerard Depardieu as the star of Andrzej Wadja’s film Danton. (Early on, chocolate reveals the truth of one player’s character.)
Un Dimanche à Paris
Cour du Commerce St.-André