You would find yourself – without hurting your conteporaries, of course – hoping that the curse of the Pont-Rouge ("the Red Bridge") strikes again to protect this haven of good taste from the ocean of tourists submerging the heart of old Paris. The Pont-Rouge indeed collapsed so many times – 6! – that no one tried to rebuild it thereafter; as for La Brasserie de l'Isle Saint-Louis, it is still as fit as a fiddle.
Fan of simplicity, the place was called La Taverne du Pont-Rouge ("The Tavern of the Red Bridge"), well over a century ago, spreading in front of the River Seine a terrace which is still one of the most cozy of the capital. The Tavern went for some time by the sweet name of L'Oasis ("The Oasis"); the business belonged to a Mr Lauer, a staunch Alsatian who served cabbage, sausage and beer to a bohemian clientele, probably chasing the ghost of Baudelaire.
One evening in 1953, Paul Guépratte, personal chef of the Duchess of Windsor, whose pied-à-terre in Paris was nearby, heard that Lauer threw in the towel. The deal was concluded with a handshake over the wooden bar, which still supports a sumptuous coffee machine from another age. Two generations later, another Paul Guépratte is the cashier, while his mother and his grandmother swallow a blanquette with a cup of Champagne in the nearly seaside glow of a winter lunch.
A family business... and a regular clientele joined together. Liz Taylor and Natalie Wood dined at the Brasserie with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. Bardot felt so good here that she even gave the boss a small dog named Baby. And she never found anything wrong with good meat savoured on the antique wooden tables, comfortably settled on timeless red moleskin.
The Seine reflects a soft light that bathes the two rooms, ochre mosaic floor and beige ceiling. White and warm at the end of the morning, a pearly river at twilight, at the cocktail hour.
Time passes, nothing changes. The Brasserie was also called Le Café des Sports ("The Sports Bar"). A Gavin Hastings picture reminds that the Brasserie is a rugby Mecca and when the Scottish thistle plays against the Gallic rooster, hordes of kilts land on the Île Saint-Louis and the old walls resound with their songs. Year after year, sauerkraut after cassoulet, riesling after chablis, match after match, the family grows.
Extract of "Brasseries of Paris" by Fançois Thomazeau
and Sylvain Ageorges - (2006) Parigramme Publishing