The brasserie next to my office is a classic. A chalkboard shows the plats du jour. The waiters in crisp black waistcoats glide between tables. The corner terrasse catches the lunchtime sun. Customers watch the world from wicker chairs facing the street. Since Paris restaurants started re-opening a month ago, a sense of optimism is in the air. The return of my favourite local brasserie, La Belle Ferronnière, is a small example of the joys and the challenges of this unique moment in Paris.
Cafés and restaurants are the pulse of a city and their complete closure this winter showed that this is especially true of Paris. After 200 shuttered days in which that restaurant pulse was only kept ticking by takeaway food and government support packages, the gradual re-opening has even been likened to la libération in 1944. This new freedom has proved a very open-air event, helped by the authorities’ enforced rethink of Paris’s public space. Sixty thousand car parking spaces have been replaced with socially distanced outdoor tables and since the first Covid lockdown, no less than 10,000 ad hoc terraces have been created in Paris – many within makeshift wooden crate constructions. My local is on rue Pierre Charron, a wide street with elegant pavements which are now packed with improvised lunchtime tables of sashimi or Peking duck.Like the neighbouring restaurants, La Belle Ferronnière has carved out extra seating from the street, using both its delivery zone and tables on the vent of an underground car park.