Famed Paris brasserie ransacked by 'Yellow Vests' reopens

Philippe Lopez, AFP | Employees of Le Fouquet's brasserie walk inside the restaurant on the eve of its reopening in Paris on July 13, 2019.

Fouquet’s, the celebrated restaurant on Paris’s most famous thoroughfare, reopens on Sunday after being torched four months ago by Yellow Vest protesters.


Nestled at the corner of the Champs-Élysées and Avenue George V, Fouquet’s has long been an icon of luxe. After being burned and vandalised by Yellow Vest protesters on March 16 it also became a symbol of French anger over societal inequalities. What it will signify going forward remains to be seen.

Fouquet's reopens on July 14, the French national day that represents France’s post-revolutionary ideals of “Liberty, equality and fraternity", at a time when the protests are dwindling but French President Emmanuel Macron, largely perceived as elitist, is falling in popularity. But will the restored restaurant come to symbolise a steadfast French state or will it become an emblem of French populism?

The answer to that question will likely only be known when the next presidential elections roll around in 2022. What’s sure for now is that the anger that fueled the demonstrations continues to simmer, with 44 percent of French saying they supported the Yellow Vest protests in a survey conducted by polling firm OpinionWay in early July.

Still, regardless of where French public sentiment lies, Fouquet’s, which has already been in existence for more than a century, is likely to be around far longer than Macron. It has already seen multiple incarnations.

The famed eatery was opened in 1899 by Louis Fouquet, whose early patrons were coach drivers heading to the Longchamp racetrack nearby. In later years, spectators would stop in for a cocktail before a race.

It later took on a different association after the pioneering Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont celebrated landing his plane on the Champs-Élysées in 1903 in the restaurant’s bar, which was then dubbed Bar l’Escadrille (Aviation bar). It would be another 80 years before women were allowed to drink there.

By the 1920s, the establishment had become an outpost for the movers and shakers of the French film industry -- an alliance that continues, as the annual gala dinner for the César awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, has been held there since the mid-1970s.

Inside are nameplates indicating the regular tables of the many famous people who were regulars there, including Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour. Smaller plaques on the floor near the entrance bear the names of other celebrity clientele, including Orson Welles, Gene Kelly, Catherine Deneuve and Kirk Douglas. And homage is rendered to still more celebrities with photos on the wall.

With its plush red velvet chairs, a menu conceived by a Michelin-starred chef and high prices, Fouquet’s has maintained its exclusive image. In 1985 the restaurant held a ceremony for the world’s millionaires. That was the same era during which frequent guest were first rewarded with silver napkin rings with their names engraved on them. Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson and Liza Minnelli are among those who received the honour. The rings are now housed in glass cases near the entrance.

And former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a man well known for his flashiness, chose Fouquet’s as the venue for his 2007 election victory, a move that was widely pilloried.

That high-end image was likely what sparked protesters' wrath in March, who set its iconic red-and-gold awning on fire and looted the interior. But all has been set right, its owners say, promising that the restaurant has been “identically restored” and that staff and clientele won’t find anything changed. General manager Geraldine Dobey declined to say how much the work cost.

The restaurant re-opens its doors on Sunday, just in time for the first round of patrons to watch the July 14 parade from its first-floor dining room. The Yellow Vests have called for their ranks to turn out to the Champs-Élysées that day as well.

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