In 1675, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli was inspired to open a coffee shop by an Armenian immigrant named Pascal who was selling lemonade and coffee at a kiosk in Paris. Pascal’s attempts at running the small business were unsuccessful, so Procopio decided to take over. This would eventually lead him to purchase a bath house which he remodeled into a café. He decorated his shop in an elegant European style with crystal chandeliers, wall mirrors, marble tables, period furnishings, and red wallpaper. Customers would come frequently to drink coffee or eat a sorbet. It wasn’t until 1689, however, that the café’s popularity skyrocketed. The Comédie-Française, one of the oldest active theatre companies in the world, opened its doors right across the street from Le Procope. As a result, the café attracted actors, musicians, poets, philosophers, playwrights, stage artists, scientists, writers, and revolutionaries. It eventually became the meeting place for fine wits and intellectuals. Thus, the first literary café was born.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Victor Hugo, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Thomas Jefferson are just a few of the great figures who frequented the café, which heightened its image and turned it into a cultural and political hot spot. Anyone who was a part of the literary world would come together at the shop to debate and exchange philosophies. As a matter of fact, Le Procope was where the most advanced ideals of the Enlightenment would become asserted, and many of these ideals went on to inspire the French Revolution. Benjamin Franklin also worked on the U.S. Constitution here. In addition, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert co-founded and produced the encyclopedia at the café in the 18th century.
As you can see, the café’s rich historic past continues to draw artists, writers, politicians, celebrities, and many tourists who keep coming back regularly. It has since been turned into a restaurant as well, with a seafood based-menu. Aside from the fascinating history of the café, what makes it so unique is that it’s a cross between a bistro/café and a museum. Here you can find Napoleon’s hat on display in a glass case. He left it as a pledge to pay his debts. Voltaire’s original table is also at the cafe, which, of course is only for display. The wallpaper even dates back to 1830. Everywhere you look you will find memorabilia. Stepping inside the café is equivalent to going back in time to the 18th century. The elegant decorations and furnishings all remain the same, with added touches of historic objects and paintings. Paying a visit to this unique and historical café would be worthwhile to anyone wanting to get a taste of French history that cannot be found anywhere else.