Everybody dreams of taking a break, sitting en terrace, and watching the world go by while sipping une noisette, a glass of rosé, or a Perrier rondelle. And people actually do that in Paris: tourists, of course, but also the locals. Students gather in bistros year around as a more lively alternative to the library. Female friends meet for tea and a pastry in the afternoon. Others enjoy cocktails at Happy Hour. Some catch a film and finish off the night with moules frites and Belgian beer. Bistros are no mere watering holes: they also perform a social function.
And everybody sits in the ubiquitous rattan bistro chairs, without paying much attention to them. For more than 100 years, they’ve been part of the Parisian urban scenery as much as the Guimard métro entrances, the newspaper kiosks, and the Morris columns. All these chairs are made by two manufacturers: Maison Drucker (est. in 1885) and Maison Gatti (est. in 1920). You will occasionally find some cheap Chinese imitations but the authentic, made-in-France models will have a small brass plate attached to the frame: check it out next time you rest your tired derrière!
Although there are only two makers and they both use the same materials, the variations are almost infinite: different styles of frames, different patterns and dozens of colors for the seats and backs. The rattan is cut, steamed, bent, and assembled by hand. Rilsan (which comes from the castor oil plant) is dyed by injection and woven by skilled artisans: its color never fades even when exposed to the sun and it will sustain wide variations in temperatures without cracking. Although many famous cafés special order their “signature” chairs, there are enough choices for each neighborhood bistro to create its own look.
The popularity of these chairs doesn’t wane: they’re elegant, comfortable, light, and durable. And they stack so easily! Closing shop after a busy day is (almost) a breeze. Even Mr. Bear approves… Grab a chair and make a new friend.
En terrace: on the terrace (where drinks will cost you more…)
Une noisette: an espresso shot with a touch of milk (lit. a hazelnut)
Perrier rondelle: a glass of Perrier with a slice of lemon
Moules frites: mussels and French fries
Le derrière: you know what that means; yes, you, do.