Monday 11 January 2021

Week 2: A big noise at “Père Tranquille”

100 years ago this week: Week 2

Thanks for all your kind messages after the first post last week. It's good to be back and good to know that people are still reading! Here's week 2!
A not so souper evening.... 

A big noise at “Père Tranquille”

In an establishment at Les Halles where nightbirds looking for thrills go to taste the classic “Père Tranquille” onion soup, the owners had made a habit of spicing up…the bill.

A soup was priced at 30 francs, with the rest added as a supplement. When customers refused to pay, a special guard working for the establishment invited them to cough up without delay. The day before yesterday, a ruckus broke out over one of these difficult to swallow bills. The police intervened and took the soup eaters and ‘Père Tranquille’ staff to the station. Six of the people arrested were sent to the cells.


Another tiny film scenario - perhaps this time more suited to a Laurel and Hardy movie - with a setting at once typically Parisian and utterly international. The local star is the onion soup, but all cities have their tourist traps and their unscrupulous businesses that attempt to eke out a little extra money from customers who are either unaware or too drunk to notice. 

The Père Tranquille was apparently unaffected by this micro-scandal and remained a popular late night – or early morning – stop. Evelyn Waugh noted a visit to the restaurant at the end of a Paris all-nighter in 1929 in his "Labels: A Mediterranean Journal".

"It was broad daylight when we left; then we drove to the Halles and ate fine, pungent onion soup at Le Père Tranquille, while one of the young ladies in our party bought a bundle of leeks and ate them raw.”

In 1921, the Père Tranquille – as Waugh alludes to – overlooked the sprawling and hectic Halles food market. The contemporary advert below highlights this proximity, with the promise of fresh market produce surely attracting custom. The mix of populations though must have provided a curious sight – top hats and fur coats in the restaurant, overalls and flat caps on the market floor.

It should perhaps be noted that this clipping comes from L’Humanité (12/01/1921), a newspaper that became the mouthpiece of the French Communist movement in 1920. Everybody in the story is ridiculous, and all are guilty. L’Humanité viewed this story from the eyes of the market worker, scoffing at a restaurant they would never frequent and laughing at the high society arrivistes who for once were being swindled themselves.

100 years later, Au Père Tranquille is still standing at the same location, but the surrounding area has changed beyond all recognition. The restaurant now overlooks the city's largest shopping centre, and top hats and fur coats are rarely seen here today.

Like all restaurants in Paris, it is currently closed. It is sad to see it so quiet, although - for once - it is truly living up to its name. The restaurant, originally opened at the end of the 19th century, is a survivor. When the doors open again and the terrace is set - apparently one of the largest in France - perhaps I'll come and test the onion soup (and look closely for any unadvertised extras on the bill!)



C-Marie said...

I had Onion soup a few times as a child, but did not like it. Perhaps it is more a Parisian taste. I love reading the history!! Thank you!
God bless, C-Marie

Adam said...

Hi C-Marie.
In this particular case, and very often in this period and before, onion soup was something that was eaten after consuming large quantities of alcohol (so early in the morning)! It is said - and I haven't tried this - that eating onion soup hides the odour of alcohol that eminates from us after we've had a few glasses. Whether it sobers us up or not is another topic.
Interestingly again in this case, onion soup was also something that linked the rich and poor, and alcohol played a part once more. Legend has it that the recipe comes from French kings, with champagne being used to deglaze the pan. The ingredients though - apart from the alcohol - are cheap market staples, available to almost everybody. The rich feel as if they are enjoying something authentically rustic, the poor that they are eating the food of kings!

Susan said...

Great social history. Love the details about the Communists and onion soup. It also makes me reconsider this area from the point of view that these days I would actively avoid it -- the new Halles -- yuk! But maybe I should do a bit more wandering about there.

Cergie said...

Hum Adam, je n'irais pas si j'étais toi. Il me semble avoir regardé, peut-être y suis je d'ailleurs passée juste pour un "bock" sans être enthousiaste. Mais si tu veux une adresse à deux pas de là, qui soit vraiment top et typiquement parisienne, pas chère du tout ce qui ne nuit pas, essaie la Fresque (voir ICI). Tu vois, depuis le Père Tranquille tu tournes à gauche dans la rue Rambuteau et tu y es. C'est même ouvert pour la vente à emporter en ce moment.

Cergie said...

J'allais assez souvent dans ce coin mais depuis les travaux je n'y suis guère. Je me suis posé la question des statues juste en face du Père Tranquille, que sont elles devenues ? Et bien j'ai trouvé la réponse dans ce message d'un blog très sympa (ICI). J'en ai moi-même pris des photos moins réussies

Adam said...

Bonjour Cergie. Je connais bien La Fresque, et je partage ton avis.
Concernant les statues, c'est étrange, mais je n'ai pas le souvenir des les avoir vu - et donc j'ai pas remarqué qu'ils étaient plus là!

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