Bistro, cafe, brasserie : « Garçon, a drink !! Bistro, bistro!!”

 In J&L Art & Culture

J&L Art & Culture

Bistro, café and brasserie, this month J&L Paris is taking you for a drink on the terrace!

J&L Paris comes back to the legendary birth of Parisian bistro(t)s. The word would come from Montmartre, at the Mère Catherinein 1814. It would be the transformation of the Russian word “bystro, bystro” meaning “quickly, quickly!”. Nowadays, a bistro is a casual and popular place where you can drink a glass of wine and eat some charcuterie, even though the bistronomy has appeared a few years ago !

Mère (mother) Catherine Bistro, Paris, Montmartre
Mère (mother) Catherine Bistro, Paris, Montmartre

At the beginning, a story of coffee and hop

Every culture has tiny specificities about its restaurants and bars, but few have a place named three different ways: café, brasserie and bistro(t)!

The café is a place where you can drink… coffee! Although it is pretty obvious today, it hasn’t always been. The first cafés were created in the XVIIth century in Marseille, then in Paris, where the first respectable establishment offering an excellent coffee, the famous Procope, opened in 1686.

"The first cafes are created in the XVIIth century in Marseille, then in Paris..."

The word “brasserie” comes from the place where we brew the beer. Therefore, the places where a good beer was served were named “brasseries” (breweries). Nowadays, the drinks’ menu is way more extended and is not only about hop anymore, but the expression has remained !

Bistro Procope Cafe Paris
Bistro Procope Cafe Paris

Bistro, a Russian heritage in Paris?

« Garçon, a drink !! Bistro, bistro!! ». This simple appeal has turned the Parisian cafés/brasseries into legends. After Napoleon the First defeat during the battle of Paris, on March 30th 1814, the Russian soldiers occupied Paris and its surroundings waiting for his capitulation and exile. At this time, the French Capital doesn’t have its 20 districts (arrondissements) yet, and alcohol is cheaper on the outside threshold of Paris as it is exempted from tax. According to the legend, it is in Montmartre, at la Mère Catherine brasserie/café, where you can often meet a Russian soldier asking for a drink. Nevertheless, he is not quite allowed to drink during his duty… This rebellious (or alcoholic) act forces the soldiers to ask their drink « quickly, quickly! » or in Russian « bystro, bystro! ». 

The legend is charming but doesn’t satisfy every linguist who thinks the word hasn’t been used before 1884 and would come from the folkloric language around Poitiers, a « bistraud » to discuss a wine merchant, or even from a « bistouille » depicting a coffee with alcohol typical from the North of France.

Bougnat Paris
Bougnat Paris

From Bougnats to Bistronomy

Today, we especially make the difference between a bistro/café/brasserie from a restaurant because of the menu and the service. These establishments will be popularized thanks to the arrival of people from Auvergne living in Paris all along the XIXth century. They launch many “bougnats” to serve unwealthy people and the working class but offering charcuterie with their glass of wine. The heritage is still there because we continue to eat typical casual courses, and quickly. The restaurant only opens for lunch and dinner and offers more complexed menus in a fancier decor. Obviously, there are always exceptions, such as the “Bistronomy” which has become a great trend for a few years now. A sophisticated menu but with interesting rates, cheaper than in a gastronomic restaurant!

"They launch many “bougnats” to serve unwealthy people and the working class..."

In short, you got it, if you want a coffee, a beer or a glass of wine with charcuterie, the bistro is a friendly place where you can stay as long as you desire, even seating outside if the weather allows it !

Photos credits:
1. Mère catherine : © J&L PARIS
2. Le Procope: Anonyme, Établissement de la nouvelle philosophie. Notre berceau fut un café. Le Procope, aquatinte, 25,2 x 16,5 cm, Paris, Musée Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris (inv. G.9039) Crédit : CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris
3. Bougnats de Sevigné :
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