Yvette owns a small cafe/bar/restaurant on a quiet street in an even quieter arrondisement (district) in Paris. When I met Yvette, I immediately liked her. She is friendly, sincere, talkative, inquisitive, and she feels like family. In fact, she could be my french aunt! We instantly had something in common. She comes from Pau, where we were married six years ago. I think that touched us both, equally.
On my first visit, I walked in the door, and a man was standing at le zinc bar sipping a beer by himself, reading the newspaper. Nobody else was around. It was about 4pm. Yvette then appeared out of nowhere and we met for the first time. I started explaining why I was there - that I was searching for a small café or restaurant to potentially buy. I was a little relieved when the man left so that I could talk more privately with Yvette. Immediately, however, a lady walked in with a small dog in her arm. The lady's name is Paule. She gave kisses to Yvette & sat down in what appeared to be "her" seat. Her miniature dog took the opposite seat, and turned himself around in the chair to face the street, eager not to miss any of the activities. From that point forward, it was a conversation including three of us. No privacy here! But that's OK. Paule and Yvette were obviously good friends. They seemed to be about the same age: mid-sixties, give or take. I eventually learned that this was the case with most of her other customers as well (being good friends, I mean, although being in the same age bracket is probably true as well).
Yvette has been running this particular place for the last 18 years. It's an old place. Still untouched from decades ago, or more. Maybe a half century. It would need lots of TLC, but oh what potential! It feels like a well worn-in shoe. Behind the bar are all the small glasses and barware, but there is also the presence of one giant espresso machine. I'm practically sold on that machine alone! Such a serious looking machine. The seating area is small, and feels just right for what I'm looking for - it has 16 seats. She gave me a short tour of the place. When she showed me les toilettes (bathroom), I let out an uncontrollable "ohmygod". She said, "oui, un toilet turque" (yes, a turkish toilet). I couldn't believe I was still seeing one of these things. My first encounter with one was actually in Turkey about ten years ago. Let me just say that I preferred not going to the bathroom on that particular pit stop than to try such a crazy toilet! It was the most backward, foreign thing I had ever seen in my life! (For those not having the pleasure of seeing or using a turkish toilet, let me explain: it's basically a porcelain base set in the floor of a stall, or "bathroom" and it has a drainage hole. That's it. Sometimes, there are little feet positions outlined in the porcelain to give you a clue. Arguably, these are more sanitary than the standard pot toilet. And to the person who said this, I replied, rather sarcastically, "Right". )
Back to the tour. Next stop was to the cave (basement room). Two of them in fact. I felt awkward going down the stone stairecase. It is old, narrow, somewhat steep, and has a rope for holding onto instead of a hand rail. I could hardly keep up with Yvette! The basement is dry - a good sign. The floor is all dirt. Just like they all used to be. Her first cave is filled with her treasures -- her wine collection. Gevrey-Chambertins, Pouilly-fuissés, and of course, others such as Madirans and Jurancons from the soutwest region. I was dying to check out some of her old dusty bottles that must've been there for 18 years....but we couldn't get anywhere close to them with all the stuff in between. The other cave was used for soft drinks & beer. She stocks Leffe on tap and Duvel in bottle. A good sign. Back up the stairs, she is leap years ahead of me!
On to the kitchen. Another "ohmygod". Long and narrow and full of "potential". And sorely in need of a commis (assistant). She's a one-woman show and I don't quite know how she can do it. I couldn't. She pours the wine or makes the coffee at the bar, she seats the customers at the table, she takes the order, she prepares the meal, she clears, she cleans up and settles up the tab. She's basically open from 7am until closing (around midnight), 6 days a week. Did I already mention she's easily in her mid-60's?!
Eric came with me on the second visit to Yvette's place. We learned a bit more about each other. It turns out that Yvette arrived in Paris in 1958 to start working in a café, with three kids in tow. Maybe that puts her closer to 70? We had dinner there. It was a slow night for dining, but there were several men having un verre de vin (a glass of wine). Her customer base is almost 100% locals. Not many tourists crossing this particular street.
How to describe this cafe? Yvette is from the southwest, so her menu has magret de canard, foie gras, and other traditional fare. The lighting is harsh just like it used to be - it serves a function rather than providing ambiance. The wine is exceptionally good and ridiculously affordable just like it used to be. The food is hearty and enriching. But above all, the experience is rich. Not so much because of what we ate or drank (although good), but because of what Yvette did: she welcomed us into her home and treated us like family.
I love this old place. Need to make a few more visits to see if it fits my concept.