Some Paris bistros and bars start charging by the hour …

When I came to live in Paris, I was astounded at how long people remained sitting in bistros and bars and cafés and restaurants after they’d drunk or eaten. I was then told that it was quite acceptable to sit ‘all day’ over, say a coffee or a glass of wine.  Students, I was told, […]

A typical Paris bistro (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

When I came to live in Paris, I was astounded at how long people remained sitting in bistros and bars and cafés and restaurants after they’d drunk or eaten.

I was then told that it was quite acceptable to sit ‘all day’ over, say a coffee or a glass of wine.  Students, I was told, living in attic rooms which were often dark and cold, did sit for hours in the neighbourhood bistro, their books set out on the table in front of them. And, all they had ordered was a small black coffee which then – in the 1960s, 70s and 80s did not cost more than 10 or 15 centimes. (This was before the arrival of the Euro when France’s currency was still the French Franc.)

Writers did so too: they sat writing their books in their neighbourhood bistros. One writer who did so was Françoise Sagan : in 1954, then just 18 years old, her first book, ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ was published.

Journalists did also gather in bistros to sit for hours discussing the day’s events, though they did so, not over a small black coffee, but many glasses of red wine or cognac.

It took me quite a while to adapt to this French habit: always after having drunk my Coca Cola or having eaten my ‘escargots bourguignon’, I felt that I had to leave, and paid and left.

Today … well today I too sit and sit and sit for long after I have consumed what I had gone for. (To simplify I will from now on call all drinking and eating places a bistro.)

This is a Cafe Gourmand as served in the above restaurant (cc Marilyn Z.tomlins)

But nothing lasts forever, and French bistro owners have started to do something about a client sitting over an empty glass or an empty cup for hours.

Some of them have begun to charge by the hour: “Just like for prostitutes,” someone not liking this, said to me this morning.

The first such bistro to open was in April 2013. It was in the capital’s 3rd arrondissement (district) close to the Beaubourg Centre (Museum) and called ‘Beaubourg’. 

Today there are five in Paris and one each in the towns of Bordeaux, Lyon and Aix-en-Provence and they are known as an ‘Anticafé’.

 So, added today to the words being flung around the ear of a foreigner, there is now the word ‘Anticafé’.

What is the procedure in an anticafé?

On walking in one is given a card on which one’s time of arrival is noted. One can then consume whatever one wants, and one can have refills as many times as one wants. Then on leaving, one produces the card you had been issued on arrival and you are charged according to how long you have been inside the place. Not – note – not what you have consumed.

The charges look like this:

One hour – 5 euros ($5.80 / £4.40)

5 hours or more 24 euros ($28/  £21)

A one month subscription, popping in every day if you wish and staying for as long as you wish – 240 euros ($279 / £211 )

If you can prove that you are from a creative domain (writer, painter etc) but unemployed, or you are a student, you will be given a 10% discount. And you can join their members’ list which will give you a 15% discount.

All the ‘anticafés’ provide free wifi.

Sounds a good thing?

Look at this way. A small black coffee today will rob you of 2.70 euros ($3.15 /  £2.40) almost anywhere in and around Paris. So, say you only want to drink your coffee and then go, to pay 5 euros ($5.80 / £4.40) the  lowest charge in the place, is not  so great, is it?

My honest opinion is: I prefer the true old-fashioned French bistro. To sit at a window table over a small black coffee or a glass of cold Sauvignon, and watch the world walk by, and after a while, rested and satiated, to be  on my way. I may drink up and go immediately, or I may sit for longer than an hour, lost in my thoughts or in the conversation with the person who is with me.

Therefore, if where you live is not great, or you want people around you to chat to or to ask advice  from if you are working on something, or you just do not want to spend an evening on your own but surrounded by others, then the ‘anticafé’ is for you.

And you will have free wifi.

The Paris ‘anticafés’ open at 9  a.m. and close at 9 p.m. week nights and 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sunday.

A typical resto outside Paris (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

My question is: what if a homeless person walks in, says he/she will stay for an hour and starts drinking and eating whatever is on offer?  In other words consume for much much more than what costs 5 euros?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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