It’s probably the most iconic brasserie in Paris, and certainly one of the most beautiful – commonly referred to as an “Art Deco jewel.” But the great thing about La Coupole is how proudly it wears the mantel of history, nearly a century after it first opened its doors.
At one time, La Coupole was the quintessential symbol of the Montparnasse neighborhood, a center of the city’s oyster trade. That distinction was usurped in 1973 when the wretched Tour Montparnasse skyscraper was completed (Parisians were so offended by the characterless building that subsequently they enacted a ban on all construction over seven stories high in the city center). But La Coupole’s allure never faded. Indeed, after a series of renovations, the brasserie gleams more brightly than ever.
It’s easy to imagine the appeal this grand space had for Paris’s celebrity set. Immediately upon opening in 1927, it became THE hangout for what Gertrude Stein called “The Lost Generation” of Parisian and American Bohemians – artists, writers, performers and philosophes, including Picasso, Hemingway, and the sensual Josephine Baker, who sashayed her way to singing and dancing notoriety in “barely there” dresses, but will forever be remembered at La Coupole for regularly bringing her pet cheetah to dinner with her.
The restaurant’s popularity was further polished by the regular attendance of Simone de Beauvoir, the feminist writer and political activist, and her friend Jean-Paul Sartre, the French literary critic and philosopher who famously said, “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”
How true, how true.
And the history doesn’t stop there. The interior is dominated by a dome, or “coupole,” but he space’s most dramatic features are its Cubist-inspired columns – 32 of them, painted by the Roaring Twenties’ most celebrated artists, including Picasso and Chagall (who was rumored to have been paid in alcohol).
On to the food….
The menu is broad, with an emphasis on fresh shellfish. Like many restaurants of this type, it features a prominent shucking station where patrons can see just how pristine the seafood offerings are. There, masters of the art create grand shellfish towers with lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters and clams, whelks and periwinkles – of course accompanied by brown bread and French mayo.
Other brasserie menu staples include choucroute (fall and winter only), croque messieurs and madames, sole meuniere, and an over-the-top theatrical tableside presentation of Indian Lamb Curry, served by a uniformed Indian “Prince.”
Full disclosure: During the months of May and June, both SALUT locations are honoring La Coupole as one of the Iconic Bistros of Paris, and will be serving the Indian lamb curry (no costumed princes, however).
La Coupole opens for breakfast daily at 8AM, and if you’re so inclined, last year they re-introduced dancing Thursday through Sunday nights.
Expect to pay 75 to 125 euros person depending on your choice of wine.
Oh, and here’s a gift idea for you: The restaurant will sell you its logo’d dinner plates. They’re not expensive, and they make great gifts or souvenirs.
102 Boulevard Montparnasse
Metro stop: Vavin.