Smith in the City: Café Procope

My previous three posts have described some of the features of the 18th-Century “Saint Germain” neighborhood of Paris, the Faubourg Saint Germain, the quarter where Smith stayed for most of 1766, but I forgot to mention one of this faubourg’s most famous attractions: the Café Procope.

To the point, the main reason why Adam Smith may have stayed in the Hotel du Parc-Royal in the Faubourg Saint Germain was its proximity to the Café Procope. The Procope, the oldest café of Paris in continuous operation,[1] was located on the Rue des Fosses Saint-Germain, not far from the Parc-Royal and the Rue du Colombier.[2] A Sicilian chef, Procopio Cutò, had opened a coffee house on this location in 1686, 80 years prior to Smith’s sojourn in Paris.[3] After the Comédie-Française opened its doors in 1689 across the street from his café,[4] Procopio’s establishment began to attract actors, writers, musicians, poets, philosophers, statesmen, scientists, dramatists, stage artists, playwrights, and literary critics.[5] Later, Cutò changed his name to the gallicized François Procope and renamed his business the Café Procope in 1702, the name by which it is still known today.[6]

Although I have no direct evidence that Adam Smith frequented the Procope, given its fame and proximity to the Parc-Royal, I imagine he paid a visit. Perhaps he even met the leading economistes of his day there. At the time of Adam Smith’s visit to Paris, the Café Procope was a hub of the artistic and literary community. The birthplace of the Encyclopédie, the compendium of knowledge co-edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, is said to have been conceived at Café Procope,[7] and throughout the 18th century, the Procope was the meeting place of the intellectual establishment. Not all patrons of the Procope drank forty cups of coffee a day like Voltaire, who mixed his with chocolate, but they all met at Café Procope, as did future revolutionaries like Robespierre, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.[8]

The Cafe Procope, Rue de l' Ancienne Comedie, engraving by Eugene... News  Photo - Getty Images

[1] The claim of “oldest café in continuous operation” is not entirely true. Although the original café closed in 1872, it reopened in the 1920s. See Friedrich 1990.

[2] Today, the Café Procope is located on rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. See: https://www.procope.com/en/.

[3] Bell 2003.

[4] Rothrock 1906, p. 702.

[5] Thomazeau, pp. 70–73. It was to the Café Procope, on 18 December 1752, that Rousseau retired, before the performance of Narcisse, his last play, had even finished, saying publicly how boring it all was on the stage, now that he had seen it mounted. Shaw 1955, p. 116.

[6] Prior to 1702, the café had been known only as the “boutique at the sign of the Holy Shroud of Turin,” which was the name of the previous business at the location. Shaw 1955, p. 116; David 2011, p. 27.

[7] See Fitch 2007, p. 43: “During the French Enlightenment (1715-89) the Encyclopédie was born here in conversations between Diderot and d’Alembert.”

[8] Chinard 1955, p. 443.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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