Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain Paris
“ World-famous chic Brasserie in Saint-Germain des Prés, Paris ”
On Boulevard St Germain directly across from Cafe de Flore sits Brasserie Lipp, arguably the most famous brasserie in Paris. Founded in 1880 by Alsatian-born Léonard Lipp, this chic eatery has been a popular hangout for famous writers, artists and politicians for over a century. French notables and international celebrities may be seen enjoying a hearty lunch on any given day. Some of the Lipp's most illustrious literary patrons of years past include Hemingway, Camus, and Proust. Marcel Proust once sent for jugs of the Lipp's Alsatian beer from across town. Hemingway wrote his pre-war dispatches at the Lipp. In the 1950s, Chagall, Camus, Jean Genet, Balthus, Michèle Morgan, Françoise Sagan, Charles Trenet and Simone Signoret with Yves Montand were all regular habitués of this famous establishment. Late President François Mitterand was one of Lipp's inner circle as well as Harrison Ford, Gérard Depardieu, Gregory Peck and President Jacques Chirac when he was Mayor of Paris. A few recent visitors include Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneger, who used to regularly lunch alone at Brasserie Lipp before going "to work" at Planet Hollywood.
The Brasserie Lipp insists on being called a brasserie, not a restaurant. It is a place to drink beer, wine, or coffee and to eat the renowned Alsatian cuisine, almost plain in its simplicity but copious in its portions. It is a place to converse, to read and even to write. The menu has evolved slowly and meticulously with the years, with specialties like Hareng Bismark (pickled Baltic herring) introduced in 1928. Other notables include the Choucroute Lipp (sauerkraut with sausages, pork and ham), Pied de Porc Farci Grillé (grilled pigs trotters), and for desert an exquisite Millefeuille. All these can be downed with beer or the house Riesling, served from elegant carafes. Alternatively, a selection of fine wines, champagnes and spirits are available, although Cola drinks have been banished and using mobile telephones is strictly forbidden.
The Lipp's frontage facing Saint-Germain Blvd. is the original woodwork from 1880. Inside, the brasserie is gloriously decorated with belle époque chandeliers, elaborate wall mosaics and authentic hand-lettered signs such as the one asking patrons to "kindly smoke cigarettes instead of pipes". The interior design of the first room goes back to 1900 and is known for its beautiful earthenware ceramic panels depicting exotic plants and macaws (created by ceramist Leon Farque, father of the poet by the same name). In 1925, architect I. Madeline designed the second more in-depth room, again using Farque's ceramic panels, only this time copied as mosaics. During this renovation, Charley Garrey also painted African scenes on the ceilings of both rooms. Decorated mirrors are distributed throughout the dining areas so that clientele may discreetly 'people-watch' and see what is happening in every part of the main room. A Veronese-style painted ceiling and lights combining elements of the Gothic and fin de siècle, create an art deco ensemble so warm and welcoming that it has not changed to this day.
Seating at the Lipp follows a rigid hierarchy: regulars and VIPs are seated in the first room, locals are seated in the second slightly smaller room in the back, and tourists are sent upstairs. The best dining experience is in the front, so try not to be exiled upstairs with the tourists. To increase your chances of a good table, speak perfect French or go with someone who does. Elegance counts, so be sure to dress up and look the part. You may always ask the concierge at a luxury hotel to make a reservation for you specifying a "table downstairs", but even that doesn't automatically ensure you'll be seated. Most likely, you'll have to get in line and wait like everyone else; it's part of the Lipp ritual. Be warned that the entry system of the late proprietor (the critical Monsieur Cazes) is still in operation. If you are told there is a 20 minute wait, you can guarantee you will be directed to your table at the correct time, after perhaps enjoying an aperitif on the terrace. If, however, you are requested to wait an hour, followed by the phrase "au moins", then the honorable thing to do is leave without a fuss. If it is any consolation, it is even more difficult to become a waiter at the Brasserie Lipp - you have to be proposed. It sounds like a lot of effort, but if you get past the door you'll never forget the experience. Comfortable tables covered in crisp white tablecloths, sparkling glassware, heavy silverware. The menu almost exclusively features "la cuisine de Grandmere"; definitely not nouvelle cuisine, but hearty food as it may have been circa 1905. Count on 25-50 euros ($30-$60) per person for lunch, depending on the demands of your palate.
Le Lipp - where the air one breathes is not the same as that next door, where the people one meets seem to be in harmony with each other, where cares vanish, where life seems easier, kinder, warmer.
" There are institutions, like Brasserie Lipp, that people love to hate. And then there are those .... that one loves to love. But sometimes, love gets in the way. " - Patricia Wells, International Herald Tribune - August 22, 1997