Café Au Lait: A Beverage Unfit for the Roll

Whether congregating in the Café de Paris on the Boulevard de Italiens or the Cabaret de la Mère Saguet at the barrier du Maine (a favorite of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas’), Parisians of all ages and walks of life made a point of conspiciously sipping coffee or cocoa as regularly as their circumstances allowed. They did this not merely to get a jolt of caffeine, but to see and be seen. “We require publicity, broad daylight, the street, the cabaret,” M. Alfred Delvan writes about himself and his fellow urbanites in his Histoire Anecdotique des Cafés et Cabarets de Paris (1862), “well or ill, we desire to exhibit ourselves from home.” Delvan considers this desire the sine qua non of the Parisian character. “We delight in attitudinising,” he continues, “in making a show of ourselves, in having a public, an audience, witnesses of our lives.”

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