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The Poetic Cabarets Of Paris
by [?]

Those who have not lived in France can form little idea of the important place the café occupies in the life of an average Frenchman, clubs as we know them or as they exist in England being rare, and when found being, with few exceptions, but gambling-houses in disguise. As a Frenchman rarely asks an acquaintance, or even a friend, to his apartment, the café has become the common ground where all meet, for business or pleasure. Not in Paris only, but all over France, in every garrison town, provincial city, or tiny village, the café is the chief attraction, the centre of thought, the focus toward which all the rays of masculine existence converge.

For the student, newly arrived from the provinces, to whose modest purse the theatres and other places of amusement are practically closed, the café is a supreme resource. His mind is moulded, his ideas and opinions formed, more by what he hears and sees there than by any other influence. A restaurant is of little importance. One may eat anywhere. But the choice of his café will often give the bent to a young man’s career, and indicate his exact shade of politics and his opinions on literature, music, or art. In Paris, to know a man at all is to know where you can find him at the hour of the apéritif-what Baudelaire called

L’heure sainte
De l’absinthe.

When young men form a society among themselves, a café is chosen as their meeting-place. Thousands of establishments exist only by such patronage, as, for example, the Café de la Régence, Place du Thé�tre Fran�ais, which is frequented entirely by men who play chess.

Business men transact their affairs as much over their coffee as in their offices. The reading man finds at his café the daily and weekly papers; a writer is sure of the undisturbed possession of pen, ink, and paper. Henri Murger, the author, when asked once why he continued to patronize a certain establishment notorious for the inferior quality of its beer, answered, “Yes, the beer is poor, but they keep such good ink!”

The use of a café does not imply any great expenditure, a consummation costing but little. With it is acquired the right to use the establishment for an indefinite number of hours, the client being warmed, lighted, and served. From five to seven, and again after dinner, the habitués stroll in, grouping themselves about the small tables, each new-comer joining a congenial circle, ordering his drink, and settling himself for a long sitting. The last editorial, the newest picture, or the fall of a ministry is discussed with a vehemence and an interest unknown to Anglo-Saxon natures. Suddenly, in the excitement of the discussion, some one will rise in his place and begin speaking. If you happen to drop in at that moment, the lady at the desk will welcome you with, “You are just in time! Monsieur So-and-So is speaking; the evening promises to be interesting.” She is charmed; her establishment will shine with a reflected light, and new patrons be drawn there, if the debates are brilliant. So universal is this custom that there is hardly an orator to-day at the French bar or in the Senate, who has not broken his first lance in some such obscure tournament, under the smiling glances of the dame du comptoir.

Opposite the Palace of the Luxembourg, in the heart of the old Latin Quarter, stands a quaint building, half hotel, half café, where many years ago Joseph II. resided while visiting his sister, Marie Antoinette. It is known now as Foyot’s; this name must awaken many happy memories in the hearts of American students, for it was long their favorite meeting-place. In the early seventies a club, formed among the literary and poetic youth of Paris, selected Foyot’s as their “home” during the winter months. Their summer vacations were spent in visiting the university towns of France, reciting verses, or acting in original plays at Nancy, Bordeaux, Lyons, or Caen. The enthusiasm these youthful performances created inspired one of their number with the idea of creating in Paris, on a permanent footing, a centre where a limited public could meet the young poets of the day and hear them recite their verses and monologues in an informal way.