Inspiration for Europe

Travel and dream: discover the continent’s meeting points and explore the traces of its history through fresh eyes.

Café Procope

The oldest Parisian café and the first ice-cream parlour in the world.

londonconstant via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Café Procope is an invaluable witness to the history of Paris. It was the city’s first restaurant-bar, a traditional artists and intellectuals’ café, and remains open today still faithful to the idea created in the 17th century by its founder, Francesco Procopio.

Considered the world’s first literary café, where the first encyclopaedia and the American Declaration of Independence were conceived.

Procope’s origin dates back to 1686. It was then that the Sicilian-born Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, fed up with French taverns and cabarets, decided to open an elegant establishment for refined men of the court of Luis XIV. He installed the café in Rue du Tournon and subsequently re-installed it in its current address, at al number 13, Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. Café Procope was the first establishment in Paris where they served not wine, but coffee, a product which at that time was beginning to arrive from Yemen to the great cities of the old continent.

Cafe Procope was not only the first to introduce coffee to Paris, but they say was also the first ice-cream parlour in the world. Procope’s idea consisted in bringing the most elitist flavours of Versailles to the people. A truly revolutionary notion for the time, but one which enabled the tradition of drinking coffee and eating ice-cream to be expanded the world over.

Procopio, its founder, popularised the flavours hidden behind the walls of Versailles.

In fact, ice creams were probably already being savoured in Sicily, but the first person to commercialise them in an establishment was Francesco Procopio. Therefore, the Procope is still considered the first ice-cream parlour in the world. Legend has it his ice creams were so delicious that none other than King Luis XIV himself went to congratulate him personally on his product.

Sorbet, pudding de xocolata i tiramisú
domi-san via / CC BY-NC-ND

But the Procope’s exclusivity doesn’t end here; this café was also pioneer in opening its doors to women, a right they had not previously enjoyed.

A literary, revolutionary and romantic café

In 1689 the Comédie-Française was established across the road from the café, helping convert it into a hub of activity of literary critics, playwrights, philosophers and writers.

In a short space of time, the Procope went from being the first literary café in the world, to becoming the quintessential place for political discussion.

The café and its long chats were the source for highly revolutionary ideas that were freely disseminated. It became the meeting point for the revolutionaries Robespierre, Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Marat. It was in this very café that the Phrygian cap, the symbol of freedom during the French Revolution, was presented for the very first time.

A pioneering café: the first to open its doors to women.

Over time, the Procope also became a place for romantic writers to gather, such as George Sand, Alfred de Musset and Víctor Hugo, as well as realists such as Balzac, symbolists like Théophile Gautier and followers of the Decadent Movement, including Verlaine and Oscar Wilde. It’s even said that the idea to create an “encyclopaedia” originated here, in a conversation between Diderot and d’Alembert. Later on, the café would also witness meetings between Voltaire, Rousseau, Marmontel, and even Benjamin Franklin. In fact, they say it that was in the Procope that he drafted the text of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. For this reason there’s still a commemorative plaque in the café in honour of the American politician.

Placa del Cafè Procope. Malinche via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC
Taula de Voltaire i retrat de Procopio. Imatge de Travelsignposts
Barret de Napoleó. Imatge de Travelsignposts

But the Procope’s history doesn’t end here. Legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte, still a young unknown soldier at the time, left his hat in the café as guarantee for payment, because he didn’t have enough money on him to pay the bill.

A must-visit spot for inquisitive explorers

To enter into the Café Procope is to take a trip back in time. Surrounded by magnificent mirrors, you breathe an air filled with solemnity and elegance. At the foot of a grand staircase that leads to the first floor you find a collection of autographs, including those of Paul Auster, Paul Guth and Anthony Quinn, among many other celebrities.

After climbing the stairs you discover the treasures accessible only to those who have booked in advance: the original table used by Voltaire and the Rousseau room. All around you, crystal chandeliers, salmon-coloured armchairs, red walls and oval paintings of historic characters that can recount more than three centuries of history.

ou can find further information on the official website of the Café Procope.