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Recently opened at the renowned Montparnasse café La Coupole, a photographic exhibit entitled L’Age d’or de La Coupole recalls many of the famous personalities that frequented the restaurant and numerous celebratory events of yesteryear.
To the left of the entrance, the exhibit begins with a number of portraits of some of the La Coupole’s most famous clients. Among the regulars represented are Jacques Prévert, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and of course, Ernest Hemingway. Taken between 1925 and 1970, these Keystone photos capture both the likenesses and the essence of these extraordinary individuals.
Beyond the bar, an image of a pensive Josephine Baker with her lover and manager Pepito dominates the collection of eight photographs at the left rear of the restaurant. Not to be missed is the illustration by Oscar Fabrès that portrays famous and infamous persons of different races, nationalities and religions who frequented the café during the interwar years – Russian Marie Vassilieff, Black French Aïcha, Japanese Foujita, Jewish-American Man Ray, Italian-Chiléan Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, and Norwegian Per Krogh are only a few of them.
There are a number of photos of Alberto Giacometti on the back wall, as well as shots of the main dining room, the terrace, the American Bar and the upstairs restaurant La Pergola (no longer in existence). A color photograph of the 1994 exhibition of sculptor Louis Derbré’s works seems out of place among the fifty-odd black and white images of the restaurant’s more distant past.
At the right rear of the restaurant, photos show scenes of the downstairs room – Le Dancing – that was frequently used for parties. A jazz orchestra called GK is depicted in a snapshot in this corner. A few panels beyond, a photo of the Bachicha tango orchestra recalls the days when Argentine Juan Bautista Deambroggio and his partner Eduardo Bianco regaled audiences in Paris with bandoneón (a type of accordion) and violin, respectively. Deambroggio, who was known as Bachicha, remained in Paris after the Bianco-Bachicha orchestra disbanded and formed his own orchestra. Though he toured Europe, Africa and the Middle East, he always returned to the City of Light. He performed at La Coupole until his death in 1963. Among the many tangos that he composed is one named Montparnasse.
The remaining photographs of the exhibit feature scenes of the interior of the restaurant, signs that have graced the façade over the years, and a particularly amusing set of shots of owner René Lafon and artists such as Fauvist Emile Othon Friesz playing pétanque on the roof terrace, once known as le boulodrome. The exposition ends with two illustrations with a culinary theme and a menu celebrating the anniversary of the Groupe de l’Echelle, a group of painters who studied under Othon Friesz.
The photographic exhibit is the work of Georges Viaud, full time historian for Brasseries Flo, the restaurant group that has owned La Coupole since 1988. Viaud is passionate about the history of Montparnasse and in particular, the history of La Coupole.
The exhibit runs from the 9th of January through the 20th of April.
Founded by brothers-in-law Ernest Fraux and René Lafon, La Coupole was built at the former location of an ancient charcoal depot. After being fired from the nearby Dôme café, they set out to create a magnificent restaurant that would outshine their former place of employment. The resulting café was immense, seating up to 600 people and employing 450. All the elements of its interior design, from tiles to furniture, were custom made.
Original art by Montparnasse legends Fernand Léger and Moïse Kisling adorn two of the many pillars that support the ceiling of the main dining room; Marie Vassilieff was the creator of at least one additional painting. The rest of the pillars bear the works of lesser-known artists of 1920’s Montparnasse. The images represent three themes – Nature, Women and Celebration.
Today’s brasserie no longer enjoys the use of the upper floor, as several stories of offices now sit atop the restaurant. But dancing and Latin music are still enjoyed downstairs in Le Dancing, where Garnica Productions’ Les Soirées Coupole Latino continue the tradition of Latin music that Bachicha began. Garnica offers salsa lessons on Tuesday nights, salsa, merengue, Latin jazz, cha cha and other Latin rhythms on Friday nights and occasional Thursday nights dedicated to Brazilian music.
The brasserie was completely refurbished in 1988 to resurrect the original glory of its Art Deco décor. The paintings that cover the upper third and the lap vert (a material that resembles marble) that covers the lower two-thirds of each pillar were restored. The tables and stalls were redone in lemonwood, a wood that was favored during the Art Deco period. A new ceiling and a new centerpiece for the dining room have given the restaurant an air of grandeur befitting its legendary status.
With an atmosphere that can best be described as bright and gay, La Coupole proudly basks in the splendor of the past while setting the pace for 21st century café life. Few other Paris cafés can boast of such a glorious heritage and look forward to such a promising future.
102, boulevard de Montparnasse
Tel : brasserie – 01.43.20.14.20 ; Le Dancing – 01 43 27 56 00
Metro : Vavin
Open 7 days a week, Sundays through Thursday nights from noon to 1 AM and Fridays and Saturdays until 1:30 AM. Breakfast served from 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM.
Monique Y. Wells is co-founder of Discover Paris! – Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers. If you would like to have a customized itinerary created for you based on La Coupole and 20th century Montparnasse, please contact her at [email protected]