The legend of Bofinger
The fair Alsatian lady
In 1864, Colmar-native Frédéric Bofinger opened a modest establishment near the Bastille just at the edge of the Marais and Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the preferred neighbourhoods of the many Alsatians who had been employed in woodworking and cabinet-making since the 16th century.
Bofinger was the first Parisian brasserie to offer beer on draught. Served in earthenware pots that customers brought themselves, alongside delicatessen meats and sauerkraut, the beer ranged from 18° to 25° proof. When Prussia annexed Alsace and Lorraine, there was a massive inflow of refugees, which cemented the brasserie's success. One notable guest was cabaret singer Aristide Bruant, who arrived with his own eggs so the chef could prepare for him "the world's most flavourful omelette".
In 1919, Bofinger expanded and underwent an astounding renovation. Tufted bench seats, bevelled mirrors, interplaying lights and paintings...the Belle Epoque décor was resplendent with joie de vivre. The walls proclaimed Art Nouveau and an enchanted, liberated Alsace. It was the place for revelry, laughter and fun in an elegant, colourful party. In the early 1930s when the brasserie underwent another expansion, the illustrator Hansi decorated a room on the first floor and painted the blue sign that hangs outside. The artist took luncheon at the table of Curnonsky, "Prince of the Gourmets".
Arriving from the nearby Lyon and Austerlitz train stations, elected officials from France's radical contingent - led by Edouard Herriot - made Bofinger their canteen. Governments filed through like the courses of a meal.
In the post-war period, Bofinger kept a low profile. The 1970s brought about a Renaissance. From Georges Pompidou to François Mitterrand, the political class once again passed through its revolving door. Painters Arroyo, Chambas, Fromanger and Segui discussed art as a means of social transformation. On 10 May 1981, François Mitterrand reserved the first floor to celebrate his election as France's new president.
The neighbourhood was in fashion. Fashion designers crowded adjacent streets: Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Azzedine Alaïa and more. The opening of Opera Bastille saw the arrival of opera singers, including Barbara Hendricks. Woody Allen had his own routine. When he returned to the French stage at Bercy after a long exile in the U.S., Michel Polnareff made his first public outing at Bofinger.
The beer is still on tap. Under the lively cupola of the grand dining room or in the more intimate salons of the first floor, Bofinger always stirs up history.