FYI: Paris history can be found outside the museum. Defined by vintage vibes, classic dishes, and old-school cool, these restaurants aren’t bending to meet modern tastes. They have stories to tell and if you listen closely, you’ll find that one of them is the infamous Gusteau’s (okay, not really. But this restaurant was the inspo for the Ratatouille restaurant).
Era: Louis XVI. Founded in 1766, first as a wine depot, then a restaurant in 1866, Lapérouse lauds its history of secrecy, illicit affairs, and a revolving door of literary patrons like Colette, Proust, and Hugo. The setting fits the mood: dark wood-paneled walls, gilded accents, dripping chandeliers, lush upholstery that harkens to its 18th-century roots, and mirrors scratched by diamonds gifted to mistresses who were verifying their authenticity. One is even scratched by Kate Moss and reads, « It’s 2 late 2 go 2 bed ». Yeah. The food today at Lapérouse is probably a little different from what Baudelaire, Zola, and countless mistresses ate, but it is by no means disappointing. Lapérouse offers three-Michelin-star gastronomy that includes dishes featuring caviar, blue lobster, and pigeon with the finest supporting ingredients. There’s also a pretty cool wine cave.
Era: The Sun King. Out of the thousands of cafés in Paris, only Le Procope carries the title, “oldest café in Paris.” Founded about halfway through the reign of Louis XIV in 1686, Le Procope has aged well; housed in a three-story historical landmark and decked out with classy red walls, a grand carpeted staircases, and painted portraits showing a sample of the cafe’s many esteemed patrons over the centuries. Le Procope does not look the same as it did during its inception, but it does offer its signature dish, “Veal’s head as it was cooked in 1686,” as well as other French classics like coq à vin, escargots, and French onion soup. If it seems a little pricey for café food, well, they literally classify their cuisine as “French bourgeoise” and since they lived through all the revolutions, they would know.
ADDRESS: 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie (6th arr.)
Era: Art Nouveau. Beefbar (self-explanatory name, I know) used to be La Fermette Mabeuf, a gorgeous art nouveau landmark constructed in 1898 during the Paris Exposition. The stunning faux-skylight roof, garden-inspired painted walls, and intricate metalwork all still exist in the historic “1900” room, but now the food offerings within this breathtaking setting are courtesy of a brand new, beef-focused kitchen (maybe a cow stole the chef’s girlfriend or something and this is his revenge). Beefbar offers steak frites, kobe beef, wagyu beef, and gourmet burgers (quelle surprise), all about as expensive as one would expect (very). However, the delightful, historic atmosphere more than makes up for it.
Era: Can you hear the people sing?Le Grand Véfour was founded as the Café de Chartres after the Duke of Chartres in 1784 and is the only restaurant in Paris to successfully preserve its gorgeous 1780s décor. The Café de Chartres has had a rough 200 year history involving restaurant politics, revolutionary politics, and several genre changes before (quite recently, by French history standards) settling as the gastronomic affair Le Grand Véfour. Le Grand Véfour offers classic (and pricey) gourmet French dining in a venue with stunning neo-classically painted walls and ceilings. The few square inches meters that are not covered in intricate artwork are gilded or mirrored. If this place somehow does not sound classy enough for your taste, keep in mind that in their detailed record of the restaurant’s history, they note the exact date (May 28, 1917) the establishment started using paper napkins, much to everyone’s dismay.
Era: La Belle Époque. It’s tough competition, but this might be the most gorgeous dining room in Paris. Le Train Bleu was built in 1900 during the Paris Exposition, and its concept is pretty straightforward. It’s in a train station (the Gare de Lyon, also built in 1900) and the booths in the gorgeous dining rooms are blue (a rich cobalt blue, to be precise). They go beautifully with the mahogany wood paneling, delicate paintings all over the walls and ceilings, and heavy gold filigree, all of which compliment the large train station windows. Le Train Bleu started out as a buffet for travelers in 1901 before gradually evolving into the gourmet (but not crazy expensive) experience it is today. Le Train Bleu serves gourmet classic French food like duck foie gras, beef tartare, and veal, as well as explicit vegetarian options (always a plus). It’s literally in the Gare de Lyon train station, which is kind of disorienting, but you’re guaranteed to step out of the crowd — and back in time.
Era: Oyster Heaven. Founded in 1804 and still going strong, Au Rocher de Cancale was built around the booming demand for the humble oyster. At least, oysters used to be humble (and sold en masse on the street). Au Rocher de Cancale grew to have a celebrity clientele of French authors including Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas, the former of which even featured the restaurant in his writing. Though Au Rocher de Cancale has undergone some renovations since 1804, it retains its beautiful, powder-blue storefront, and serves a delightful, colorful variety of seafood-oriented French food.
Era: Belle Époque. Brasserie Bofinger, located in Bastille, was founded in 1864 and is considered the most beautiful brewery in Paris. The main dining room features a sleek, slightly understated black-and-gold aesthetic that’s offset by a striking stained glass ceiling and intricate stained glass panels on the walls. Brasserie Bofinger offers a massive variety of Alsatian cuisine including an extensive seafood list that features its own separate menu of oysters and shellfish by region. Beyond that, there’s snails, Alsatian sauerkraut, flammekueche, and, of course, a loooot of booze. There’s four Alsatian draught beers on tap and that’s just the tip of the very tipsy iceberg.
Era: Sun King. Despite its claim to fame as the oldest restaurant in Paris, A La Petite Chaise is surprisingly understated. A La Petite Chaise (organically from the Old French word for house, cheze) started out as a wine merchant’s shop in 1680 (!!!) before eventually serving fried fish for the royal and royal adjacent. Today, A La Petite Chaise has an orange-wallpapered, chandelier-adorned, simplistic presence, and it serves the French-est food to ever French: onion soup, snails, duck, veal, beef, and a variety of cheeses all for a pretty reasonable price. It’s proof that old, historic, and quality do not always have to be expensive (looking at you, bottom of the list).
Era: fin du siècle/art nouveau. Founded in 1896, the Grands Boulevards location of the Bouillon Chartier restaurant resides in a preserved 19th century railway station, and with its globe lights and gilded coat racks, simmers with a mythic vibe. Ambiance at the Bouillon Chartier is critical. The food, though inexpensive and unmistakably French, pales in comparison to the experience of the brutally efficient wait staff, the boisterous, crowded dining room, and the conversations with the strangers you will inevitably share a table with. The much newer (founded in 1903) Montparnasse location glimmers with art nouveau gold, basking in its delicately painted walls and stained glass ceiling.
Era: Art Nouveau. The walls of the art nouveau treasure known as the Bouillon Julien are a bright sea foam green, yet somehow they match everything. From the stained glass ceilings, delicate murals on the walls, and mahogany wood paneling to the mosaic tiled floor, the Bouillon Julien is dripping with class, and it is not lightly considered one of the prettiest restaurants in Paris. Bouillon Julien was built and designed by a fleet of art nouveau artists in 1906 and it flaunts its famous frequent diners like Edith Piaf. On top of all of that, they also manage to serve good cheap French food.
ADDRESS: 16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis (10th arr.)
MÉTRO:Strasbourg-Saint-Denis (lines 4, 8, 9) or Château d’Eau (line 4)
Era: Napoleonic. Canard & Champagne’s food concept is pretty contemporary- free-range duck, small-fry champagne vendors, formules aplenty- but they’re doing it all in a 200-year-old restaurant. Tucked away in the Passage des Panoramas, a beautiful and exciting covered passageway that happens to be the oldest one in Paris (circa 1800), Canard & Champagne inhabits an old stationary shop and features an intricately carved wooden storefront, a geometric black-and-white tile floor, and a cross hatching gilded ceiling: not to mention all the duck and bubbly one could ask for at a reasonable price.
What’s nearby? Passage des Panoramas, Musée Grévin, Grands Boulevards
Era: 1880s. Victoria Station is pretty hard to miss: if the bright western-style neon sign on the boulevard Montmartre doesn’t grab your attention, maybe the bright blue replica train car will. Victoria Station is a pizza restaurant inspired by the train cars of the late 19th century. Though the outside may seem cute and gimmicky, the inside is all class; narrow walkways, velvet booths, and large hanging lamps, all seemingly snatched straight from the Orient Express.
Era: Roaring 20s. The large white awning at the front of Le Select’s picture-perfect vintage exterior says “American Bar,” but don’t let that fool you. Not only are the food options at Le Select distinctly French (snails, eggs mayonnaise, lots of beef and cheese options), but no American diner would have this much booze. Le Select was a cultural hub in the 1920s, filled to the brim with esteemed international clientele, and in true 20s spirit, their drink menu is three times as long as the food menu (and a quarter of that are the 50 types of whiskey they offer). The real attraction of Le Select though, is the massive (and a bit touristy, let’s be real) outdoor terrace that serves as the perfect companion for all those drinks, as well as the perfect match to a black-and-white Instagram filter.
ADDRESS: 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse (6th arr.)
Era: Midnight in Paris. La Closerie des Lilas (enclosure of lilacs) is a café/gourmet restaurant/piano bar with a rich literary history and a sleek, chic, yet quaint garden‑y feel. The star of La Closerie des Lilas’ history is Hemingway. He has an homage to the piano bar in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, and there’s even a plaque dedicated to him, but all the modern American greats, like Fitzgerald and Henry Miller, stopped by as well. Perhaps they enjoyed the greenhouse-esque ceiling of windows, or the overflowing abundance of plants in every room, or maybe it was the oysters. The restaurant offers everything from said impressive list of oysters to a “Hemingway » fillet of beef, while the café/bar, self described as having a “mythic vibe,” has quite a few vegetarian options and serves cocktails until 1:30 in the morning.
ADDRESS: 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse (6th arr.)
Situated on the grand Boulevard Haussmann (not to be confused with the Grands Boulevards), Bar Le Florence is a simple, no frills, classic brewery and café. Their minimalistic décor and menu (a small selection of French daily specials) makes room for a large drink list and a friendly atmosphere; aka what’s really important.
Era: All the eras. Les Deux Magots opened in 1885, marking it as one of the oldest cafes in Paris. Unlike many of the other establishments on this list, it does not belong to any one particular era. Its centralized Saint-Germain-de-Prés location has hosted wave after wave of artists, intellectuals, and writers, from surrealists to existentialists to early 20th century novelists (yes, Hemingway again). Les Deux Magots is iconically, classically, and almost stereotypically, aesthetically Parisian. However, with the fame comes the flood of tourists, and with that in mind, this café is probably best visited between big meal times. Les Deux Magots has six different menus, all for different times of day, and serves everything from breakfast omelets to dinnertime beef tartare. Do also try the old-fashioned hot chocolate, regardless of the weather.
ADDRESS: 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés (6th arr.)
Era: Midnight in Paris. Le Polidor opened as a cheese shop in 1845 (notice crèmerieon the sign), turned into a restaurant a bit later, and quickly became an intellectual hub for 19th century artists which continued well into the 20th century (Hemingway really gets around, huh). Le Polidor, made up almost entirely of medium-brown wood, has a simple, well-worn aesthetic, as if they have comfortably settled into their existence over the past 170+ years. Le Polidor serves all the French classics like boeuf bourguignon and confit canard accompanied with a homey vibe, and between you and me, it’s the cheapest out of all the cafes that flaunt Hemingway’s patronage.
Era: Early 20th century. Café de Flore is right across the street from Les Deux Magots and has a similar classy terrace-and-awning setup with an old school intellectual history. Artists, writers, celebrities, and even fashion designers have gathered, deliberated, created, and dined within the heavily windowed walls or on the specially-designed café tables outside. Though Café de Flore was founded in 1887, its heyday was in the 1930s and 40s when many of the famous guests and writers considered it a heaven from German occupation. Café de Flore offers a variety of French sandwiches and salads, but their specials, like their three-meat terrines or duck shepherd’s pies, are what’s worth getting.
Era: Timeless-ish. Au Pied de Cochon sticks by its name: pig’s feet are the house special at this 24-hour diner. They’re served with either fries or mashed potatoes, and to assure the cautiously adventurous, they are delicious. For the fainter-of-heart or the pork adverse, Au Pied de Cochon also serves pretty much every other type of meat as well as a mean bowl of French onion soup. And yes, they have been open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except for the occasional repair/pandemic), since 1947. The (almost) all-day-all-might–every-day venue decor whispers, ‘it’s 1901 and it’s glossy in here,’ and the food in like injecting France pre-1979 straight into your veins. The vibe is diner-classy, with Chagall-esque art embedded on every single square inch of the walls (also the private rooms have tiles shaped like tiny pigs, it’s really cute). The guests range from tourists to Parisian regulars, and the vibe is friendly and accepting, but a note to late-night/early morning venturers: there is security and they typically don’t accept drunk patrons, only dead-of-night pig feet enthusiasts…
Era: Medieval Times. Les Deux Colombes owes its historicism to two literally medieval lovebirds. Let’s start in the early 13th century: 4 rue de la Colombe (also called the Maison Colombe), so the story goes, collapsed, leaving two doves (colombes) trapped inside. The male dove escaped, and rather than leave the female to die, fed her until passing by humans could clear the rubble and let her out. It’s a really cute story, and two stone doves are carved into the side of the building to commemorate it. Fast forward a couple centuries or so, and Maison Colombe has a tenure as Paris’ oldest bistro, a stint as a famous cabaret joint in the 50’s, and finally, the new and trendy French restaurant, Les Deux Colombes, that opened in 2020. Today’s incarnation serves charm and classic French fare with a gorgeous outdoor terrace.
Era: 19th century. Bistrot Vivienne is spectacularly located right next to the Palais Royal and within the Galerie Vivienne. This opulent covered passageway retains its historic 19th century charm while cooking up innovative French food with an Italian bend. Home to a culinary school as well as a restaurant, Bistrot Vivienne handmakes everything that isn’t imported directly from Italy (the horror), and offers dishes like tuna with yuzu sauce, Agnes beef grilled with thyme, and chilled veal, all for an astonishingly reasonable price. All of Bistrot Vivienne’s rooms have a simple, out-of-time charm, but if you can swing it, check out the Le Boudoir. With its extravagant lamps, tropically wallpapered walls, and pink velvet everything, it’s exactly as sexy as it sounds.
Era: Renaissance. La Tour d’Argent is certainly not a subtle name for a crazy-fancy, super expensive, really hecking old restaurant right on the Seine: especially since it’s located in a literal 6‑story tower of pale gold stone. Founded in a jaw-dropping 1582, La Tour d’Argent has been classy from the get-go; hosting English kings back in the day and anyone who can drop 300 euros on a meal in modern times. In addition to its offerings of duck, caviar, and all the other super expensive stuff, La Tour d’Argent also has a gorgeously classy blue and gold dining room and truly stunning views of the center of Paris (we’re talking eye-level-with-Notre-Dame kind of views). La Tour d’Argent is still recovering from the death of their esteemed head chef in 2006 and has its future riding on a young up-and-comer, and if any of that sounds familiar, it’s because “Gusteau’s” in Ratatouille is based on both the story and the locale, which only adds to the oldest restaurant in Paris’ gilded legacy.
If you find yourself enthralled with Notre Dame and wish Paris hadn’t been architecturally overhauled in the 19th century, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole is the most logical next stop on your trip. Perfectly situated in the Ile de la Cité, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole has an atmosphere that can only be described as beautifully medieval. Let’s start with the outside: Au Viex Paris d’Arcole is graced with a delightful terrace dotted with cheerily purple tables underneath a sprawling wisteria tree that transforms into lush cascading greenery. Inside, the majority of the restaurant is coated in a sumptuous pink velvet (chairs, walls, curtains, everything), which leaves a few imposing exposed stone walls and some carved wooden furniture to truly sell the ancient vibe. The menu features a variety of delicious, surprisingly reasonably priced French classics including duck confit, snails, and, in true medieval fashion, rabbit.