Over the hundred and thirty-nine years the Alsatian-inspired brasserie Lipp has been open, it has become a Parisian institution. The New York Times wrote: “It has been the place to be seen for generations of poets, politicians, editors, writers, journalists and film and stage stars. Every notable Parisian from the Mayor, Jacques Chirac, to the Cardinal Archbishop drops in sooner or later for the choucroute or, if it's Tuesday, the blanquette de veau—veal stew. In fact, had Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing not appeared that day in 1965, crowd watchers could have solaced themselves with Simone Signoret and Michel Piccoli, both well-known film stars.”
When I was growing up in Paris, the energy of Lipp’s crowd was exhilarating, making it one of my father’s favorite places. Part of the restaurant’s play was that it didn’t take reservations. With the exception of the French President, everyone had to wait in line, but what happened when you got to the front of the line differed greatly depending on who you were.
The maitre d’ was an elegantly dressed man who never cracked a smile unless of course he recognized you. In that case, he’d be charmingly effusive, greeting you with a big smile and the traditional kisses of welcome. He’d erupt into his chitchat, asking you about the morsels of your life he remembered from your last visit. When it was time for you to be seated, he would parade you through the ground floor of the restaurant. Where you were seated on the ground floor depended entirely on how famous you were.
As you passed the already seated diners on your way to your designated spot, people would somewhat casually look up to see who you were.
As he sat you down and wished you bon appétit, he’d honor you with his famous wink. At that point, you knew life was good—at least for that evening.
If on the other hand you weren’t a regular or you were a tourist looking forward to experiencing the “World-famous chic Brasserie in Saint-Germain des Pré,” you would be asked to follow a waiter up a small, tight circular staircase where you’d be banished to the nether world of dining—a room that everyone downstairs was endlessly grateful to have avoided. Mind you, the food and drink were exactly the same wherever you were seated, and if you didn’t know or care that you had just been exiled, it wasn’t a problem.
My father loved this type of challenge; for him it was a game that he relished playing. However he didn’t take it seriously and never lost his sense of humor.
He would walk in, ready to out-charm the maitre d’ and make sure we were all remembered. To his and our delight, we would be escorted to our table on the ground floor and join the group of Parisians who felt they deserved their seat but really were extremely relieved they were not asked to sit upstairs.
There are restaurants like this everywhere. Either you like to be a part of the scene or you don’t. What made it so much fun for us was that our parents enjoyed it and made the experience fun for us—because it wasn’t the restaurant that made us feel special; it was that our parents knew we were special and that we would enjoy the experience.
I can’t thank them enough for that.
What about you?
Have you had the kind of experiences that ended up being a gift that lasted a lifetime?
I'd love to know your thoughts.
Note - I can not recommend this restaurant because being French I may have a different experience. My recommendation is to do your research, read the reviews and see if it is something you'd like to try.
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