Pink Lights and Champagne: James Bond in Paris

Article by David Salter

In “From a View to a Kill” the first short story in Ian Fleming’s collection “For Your Eyes Only” (1960)  the reader gets a comprehensive but compressed description of James Bond’s Paris. Bond is sitting on the terrace of Fouquet’s in the Champs Elysees, drinking an Americano, one of the ‘musical comedy drinks that are the only thing one can enjoy in the sunshine of an open air Paris cafe’. He is musing on the various cafes, bars and restaurants that he habituates when in town and his favourite hotel, The Terminus Nord, the station hotel opposite The Gare du Nord. We also learn that Bond has ‘heartily disliked the town since the War. Since 1945 he has not had a happy day in Paris.’ Oh dear.

Where Bond stays in Paris

Where Bond stays in Paris

Clearly Bond is feeling a bit liverish and I suspect that he is suffering from the malaise that everyone who has fallen in love with Paris when young experiences from time-to-time. New York is exciting and invigorating, Rome is historically unique and extraordinary, Venice is a fantasy and very beautiful – but Paris, when one is young makes one feel handsome or beautiful, romantic and that anything is possible. Like every city Paris changes and as time goes by those early feelings become relentlessly more difficult to recapture; but it is possible, it is all still there.

As Ernest Hemingway put it in his wonderful elegy “A Moveable Feast” written in his later years about his life in Paris when young, idealistic and poor “We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it….If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Whilst we’re with Hemingway, I have been struck by the clear parallel between Bond’s fantasising at Fouquet’s, about picking up a beautiful girl and taking her to dinner and Jake Barnes, in “The Sun Also Rises” picking up a poule, Georgette and taking her to dinner. Homage from one writer to a master?

1950s Paris [Taschen]

Being not (quite) old enough to remember Paris before the war I can only take Fleming’s word for it that a dramatic change had taken place between 1939 and 1945 but bearing in mind that the city was under German occupation for much of that time one can well imagine that it was so. In fact my own first visit in the late 1950s must have been very close to the time when Fleming was writing Bond’s sour thoughts, so perhaps I can use that as a starting point to show how, over time, places change and yet, somehow, fundamentally stay the same.

There were indeed difficulties then in reaching Paris that disappeared first of all with increasingly affordable air travel and then totally with the arrival of Eurostar. For most people the easiest way to get there was by train and ferry – The Golden Arrow from London Victoria to Dover, ferry from Dover to Calais and train, La Flèche d’Or from Calais to Paris Gare du Nord. In fact one of my earliest visits was driving in an Austin pick-up truck with four fellow students, en-route to Venice. It was not so long after that I discovered Harry’s Bar and was both more fortunate – and less, than Bond who shortly after his first visit to ‘Sank Roo Doe Noo’  at the age of sixteen, lost his notecase and virginity in pretty short order.

Anyway my vivid memories of that time are of Paris as somewhere very different, clearly still suffering the after-effects of the War, rather grey and perhaps almost provincial. The shops were different, mostly independent family owned establishments, few chain stores and some department stores, Au Printemps, BHV, Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette. But generally window displays were poor and not brightly lit. Cafes were OK, restaurants fine but with limited menus and generally a pretty traditional French offering. And the Jazz Clubs were fantastic. I was already an enthusiast for modern jazz and still am. Not jazz I know, but I first saw Johnny Hallyday then aged about sixteen in a basement club off the Boulevard St. Germain. Much later, my wife, Jessica and I were at the Parc des Princes for his 60th. birthday concert in 2003 and sadly, we were in Paris, when he died last year and we joined the crowds in the Champs Elysees to see the passing of his funeral cortège accompanied by hundreds of leather-jacketed Harley Davidson riding motorcyclists.

However, the point I am trying to make is that despite the signs of post-war privation, or perhaps to an extent because of them it seemed to be a pretty exotic place and the left bank was still an area dominated by Sorbonne students and artists and writers. Now Paris is becoming just another international city dominated by the super-rich, tourists, financiers and so forth. The Boulevards, St. Michel and St. Germain where we hung out in cheap cafes, smoking Gauloises and drinking Ricard (white smoke) are now just like Oxford Street and Bond Street full of international fashion stores. The cafes and restaurants, Les Deux Magots, Cafe Flore and Brasserie Lipp are expensive and aimed at tourists and well heeled Parisians. So yes, I have regrets for the lost Paris of my youth but I still go there often and my heart still soars when we pull in to the Gare du Nord. I hope, when he was feeling less tetchy, Bond’s did too. Anyway, it’s more than time to look at Bond’s Paris, as much as we know of it, in detail.

Fouquet’s

In “From A View To A Kill” we first find Bond sitting on the terrace of Fouquet’s, not far from the Arc de Triomphe, or the hotel Georges Cinq. In those days it was one of Paris’s numerous Grands Brasseries, albeit with probably the best address, smart, reasonably priced with a terrace where you could sit and enjoy a drink and not feel pressured. It had until some time ago, difficult to believe today, a Men Only bar facing out onto the Champs Elysees. I was there in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s on the day when a group of French women journalists came in and sat down. General consternation among the staff (and patrons) and they were asked to leave. And refused and just stayed put. It was not long after that the Men Only bar disappeared. Today, as with so much else in Paris Fouquet’s has become extremely expensive and is aimed at the super-rich. Nicolas Sarkozy held his party to celebrate his election as French President there, in 2007.

Fouquet’s was founded in 1899, by M. Fouquet. In 1998 it was taken over by the French hotel chain, Groupe Barriere and in 2006 Hotel Barriere Fouquet’s opened on the floors above and behind the restaurant. Now Fouquet’s is the sort of place you would go to only for a special celebration and with a healthy credit card.

Bond muses on a few other bars and cafes he frequents.

Cafe de la Paix

The Cafe de la Paix opened in 1862 to service the Grande Hotel de la Paix, in the Place de l’Opera, opposite the famous Charles Garnier landmark. It was redesigned and refurbished a few years ago and again has repositioned itself to appeal to a well-heeled clientele. Compare this with the fact that in the 1920s, Hemingway, then a struggling writer, trying to establish himself and extremely poor, with a young family, used sometimes to take them jjhere.

Cafe de la Paix

Cafe de la Paix

La Rotonde

The Rotonde is a famous cafe / brasserie in the Boulevard Montparnasse on the Left bank. It was founded in 1911 by Victor Libion and became a favourite meeting place for artists, writers and intellectuals. Two of its more famous patrons were Picasso and Modigliani. Many artists, later to become famous could not afford to pay their bills and left paintings as security until they could, so often the walls were covered in work that would later be worth enormous sums of money.

Personally I prefer Le Select, a few doors away, also in the Boulevard Montparnasse. In many ways very similar to the Rotonde, this opened in 1923 and was patronised by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Picasso, amongst many others. It is directly opposite La Coupole which I will return to later.

Both the Rotonde and the Select, unlike some others have kept their prices reasonable and tend to attract a more relaxed crowd.

Le Dome

The history of the Dome cafe is interesting. Located on the opposite side of the Boulevard Montparnasse from the Rotonde and the Select and a few doors down from La Coupole and founded in 1898 it was the first of the Paris cafe / brasseries. Within a short time it had established a reputation as the Anglo-American cafe in Paris and over the years virtually every well-known French, British and American artist, writer or journalist who spent time in Paris became a regular visitor. An ‘over-the-table’ market in artistic and literary futures was established there and in the 1920s the Dome became the gathering place for the American literary colony that had established itself in Paris, headed by Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.

The Dome has figured in the literary work of many writers including Somerset Maugham, Sartre and Hemingway. In the last couple of decades it has re-established itself as an upmarket fish restaurant, with one Michelin star and a separate retail fish shop.

I have mentioned La Coupole several times in this piece. This is the greatest and most famous of Paris’s Grandes Brasseries. Established in 1927, it is enormous with seating for 650 diners. Its original ambition was to eclipse its older rivals, The Dome, The Select and The Rotonde. Undoubtably it was successful in this but they are probably happy to have survived and flourished in its wake. La Coupole is a wonderful experience, hugely popular with tourists and Parisians.The food is good, the prices reasonable and the staff are very professional. My family and also Parisian colleagues have celebrated every family birthday, anniversary or successful project here since the 1960s and it is my habit to have either an aperitif before or a night-cap after, across the road at the Select. I’m sorry La Coupole wasn’t on Bond’s list but probably not discreet enough.

There is no obvious reason why Fouquet’s, the Cafe de la Paix, the Rotonde, and the Dome should have particular appeal for Bond except that they offer decent food and drinks and are located in fashionable parts of Paris. Probably in Fleming’s time, as now, they were the main places known to non-residents, who generally do not have the inside track on the latest fashionable places. In any case, Bond was fundamentally a traditionalist. But now we come to –

Harry’s Bar

This is a bar for serious drinkers and is the only place on Bond’s list that I can see as being  specific to him in terms of his personality and taste

Harry MacElhone

Harry’s New York Bar, to give it its full name, is situated at 5 rue Daunou, close to the Opera (hence the instruction in the Continental Daily Mail, followed by the 16 year old Bond, to tell the cab driver to go to ‘Sank Roo Doh Noo’).

In 1911 a retired American Jockey, Ted Sloane, acquired a bistro on the site and set about converting it into a bar. He dismantled a Manhattan bar, shipped it across the Atlantic and  reassembled it in Paris where he opened up as The New York Bar. He hired a barman, Harry Macelhone from Dundee and quickly established a reputation as the watering-hole for Americans in Paris. During the First World War it became the base for the American Field Service Ambulance Corps.

Over the years every well-known American in Paris (and many others) have drunk here and in fact, George Gershwin composed the music for “An American in Paris” in the downstairs Piano Bar. They offer no food apart from hot-dogs from an antiquated American sausage-steamer.

Harry's Bar

Harry’s Bar

The Bloody Mary was created here.

Ernest Hemingway invented the ‘Montgomery’ Dry Martini here. 15 parts gin to one part Dry Martini, apparently the odds that Field Marshall Montgomery preferred when going into battle !

Harry MacElhone presided over the bar until 1958 when his son Andrew took over until his death in 1989 His son Duncan died tragically young in 1998, when his widow Isabelle took over the reins.

In 2011 Harry’s celebrated its centenary at a wonderful party to which 300 members of its inner circle, The International Bar Flies, including Jessica and me, were invited – and 200 came, from all over the World. At this party Isabelle MacElhone announced that in due course her son, Franz-Arthur would take over, so a fourth generation of MacElhones will take this fabulous bar into the future.

Harry's Bar 100th Birthday celebration in 2011

Harry’s Bar 100th Birthday celebration in 2011

This is a place more than almost anywhere else in Paris where James Bond would have felt at home.

Finally Bond thinks about five rather grand restaurants that he likes. Except for the final one on the list I find this rather surprising for a man whose preferred dishes include grilled sole, cold roast beef and scrambled eggs and, according to Fleming ‘was not a gourmet (gourmand?)’. I have never visited any of them but we’d better take a look.

Le Grand Vefour

This world famous restaurant has been located in an arcade at the rear of the Palais Royale since 1748 and this, combined with its stunningly beautiful dining room and exquisite classical cooking ensures its high standing in the gastronomical world. At one time it was owned by Taittinger Champagne but this was probably after Bond’s time.

Caneton

This establishment no longer exists and information is thin on the ground.

Lucas Carton

Another of Paris’s grand classical restaurants founded in the mid-1800s, Lucas Carton, in the Place de la Madeleine, was modernised in 1980 and introduced a simplified more reasonably priced menu under the supervision of a ‘rock-star’ chef.

Le Cochon d’Or

Another of Paris’s grand restaurants that has disappeared since Bond’s day.

Armenonville

I must admit that, until I came to write this piece, this place had completely passed me by. Although I have read “From A View To A Kill” many times, I had never bothered to find out about  Armenonville. This is the restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne which Bond, sitting on the terrace at Fouquet’s, dreams of taking the girl he might pick up, to dinner. Of course the story gets in the way and it doesn’t happen. A pity – would’ve made a sweet anecdote.

The story of Le Pavillon d’Armenonville, to give it it’s full name is fascinating. In the 17th. century a French King (would have been Henry IV, Louis XIII or Louis IV) wanted to extend his hunting land and made an offer to his hunt master, Fleriau (Signeur d’Armenonville) to exchange some land on the edge of the Bois for some more suitable territory. Fleriau built a hunting lodge on his newly acquired land and named it after his title. It was demolished in the 19th. century and it was rebuilt by M. Daviaud as a restaurant for riders and people riding in carriages in the Bois.

Apparently it was still operating as a restaurant in the 1950s but it has since repositioned itself as a venue for private and corporate events for up to 2000 people. Photographs show it to be a stunning building and I will visit it when I am next in Paris.

And finally, two restaurants Bond avoids believing them to have been tarnished by the expense account (although presumably he has one?) and the dollar. Whether ‘tarnish’ is the right word or not I don’t know but I expect the five that he does like would also have been affected.

La Tour d’Argent

The early history of this left bank restaurant on the Quai de Tournelle, which claims to have been there since 1582, is undocumented and clouded in obfuscation. It is famous for its ‘pressed duck’ and is very expensive.

La Tour d’Argent

Maxims

One can well imagine that Bond did not like Maxim’s, in the rue Royale, as it has always tended to be a celebrity hang-out and Bond has expressed his dislike of such places and women who are actresses or are in some way are public property. Tracy di Vincenzo was unlucky enough to slip through the net.

Founded by M. Maxim in 1893, by 1932 it was already patronised by the rich and famous including the future Edward VIII. In the 1950s international celebrities such as the Duke of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas were to be seen here. The 1970s saw a takeover by showbiz and the international jet set – Brigitte Bardot, Sylvie Vartan (one time wife of Johnny Hallyday), John Travolta and Barbra Streisand.

In 1981 the designer Pierre Cardin bought the restaurant and expanded the brand to include seven international restaurants, products, goods and services. No, definitely not Bond’s sort of place.

So there it is, James Bond’s Paris. A place lodged in time, described with clear precision in a few brief pages.

What more do we know? Not a lot, except that, after dinner, he liked to go up to the Place Pigalle ‘to see what would happen to him. When as usual, nothing did, he would walk home across Paris to the Gare du Nord and go to bed.’

All I can say is Bond can’t have been trying very hard – perhaps he should have gone back to Harry’s Bar.

Incidental Intelligence

Bons baisers de France; James Bond’s Travels in France

Book Review: The France of Fleming: James Bond, a French Passion

The French Ian Fleming? Gérard de Villiers, the Writer as Inside Man

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5 thoughts on “Pink Lights and Champagne: James Bond in Paris

  1. A great article.
    Working for a Paris Headquartered, French company for over 20 years makes me associate the ‘City of Light’ with long meetings, interminable dinners, late nights and jet lag. All of which makes you forget how beautiful and enjoyable the place can be.
    I also lived there for a couple of years which gives you another perspective altogether.
    Over the years, I’ve visited pretty much every location David has highlighted and well worth it they all are too.
    I even rented out ‘Le Pavilon’ for a corporate event so I guess that makes me some sort of completist. Mark you, if Bond tried to pick somebody up in the ‘Bois de Boulogne’ today, I’m not sure what he’d get, quite literally.
    All said, I suspect like David, I yearn for the Paris of the ‘60s and ‘70s when Paris was so glamorous and full of joie de vivre.
    It was a time before LVMH took over the world and Paris was full of interesting artisanal shops.
    It was also before the 35 hour working week ruined the cafe society.
    Halcyon days when we didn’t let the odd student riot or terrorist attack put us off.
    Bravo to David for reminding me how beautiful Paris still is.

    • Thanks for the kind comments, David. This is a piece that you probably should have written. Anyway, I did my best and I’m glad it gave you some pleasure and brought back happy memories. The ’60s and ’70s were certainly very good times to be in Paris.

    • Bravo to you both – there is nothing like Paris to inspire new ideas and bring back memories of old ones! I have only seen Paris on the econ-travellers budget so none of the lovely places you both write about were on my radar, regrettably. Perhaps next trip I will be able to seek out some splendor!
      Thanks again.

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