Capturing History On A Hunch

Its not surprising that a city like Paris has a bit of history around every corner. But this still caught me by surprise.

Laperouse on Quai des Grands Augustins (May 2014)

Laperouse on Quai des Grands Augustins (May 2014)

During our visit to Paris last month, we were staying in an hotel on the Quai des Grands Augustins. One evening, I stepped out on my own to take a walk and passed by this salon/restaurant. I don’t know why I took a couple of pictures of this place – just because it looked so pretty, warm and comforting from outside on this grey evening. On a hunch, I noted the name, Laperouse, and was checking out the place on the internet today and here’s what I found about it (Source: I’d say it was an excellent hunch that made me take a picture of this little piece of history! Read on…

“La Maison Lapérouse was founded in 1766 by Lefèvre, beverage manufacturer to the King, who purchased this former hôtel particulier from Forget, ‘Master of Water and Forests’ for Louis XIV…

… The establishment rapidly gained notoriety for the quality of its food as well as the presence of a curious turnstile that indicated how many bottles should be brought up from the glorious wine cellar. The setting of many a blow-out and joyful drinking sessions, the restaurant was also frequented by merchants from the market as well as their employees and clients. Due to the high rate of criminal activity of the period, Lefèvre made the servants’ rooms on the second floor available to his customers as a practical and secure place for them to do their books in total discretion. Thus were born the famous ‘petits salons’ of Lapérouse… 

 … Around 1850, at the peak of its success, Lapérouse was the meeting place of the literary, political and artistic, as well as romantic ‘Tout-Paris’. The second floor rooms were popular with figures like Georges Sand, Alfred de Musset, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert. With regulars such as these, Lapérouse became the meeting place of writers and intellectuals, all of whom held the new proprietor, Jules Lapérouse (a coincidence of homonym with the navigator), in high esteem and manifested their friendship by advising him on the decoration of the highly prized petits salons. Later, Auguste Escoffier, “cook of kings and king of cooks”, took the reins in the kitchen, and it was at that time that Lapérouse, by itself, came to symbolize the highest level of French gastronomy…

… Deviating from their original purpose, little by little, the petits salons became a privileged place for romantic encounters. Indeed, a provision of French law of the time removed all validity to a record of adultery made in a public place. A hidden stairway, cut into the wall and leading to the Senate through underground galleries of the former Couvent des Augustins contributed to the legend, as did the mirrors on which the willing, but hardly naïve “cocottes” had the habit of carving their names with the diamonds that their gentlemen had just given them, in order to verify that their “attentions” were not being rewarded by a vulgar piece of glass.”

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