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Though it may come as a surprise, it was a native of Palermo, Sicily – a certain Francesco Procopio Coltelli – who first opened, in1686, the first literary café in Paris, and in the whole Western world. The café, which was named Procope, owed its success to the Sicilian’s ingeniousness, his icy cold drinks, and his lemon and orange sorbets with herbal, spicy aromas.
The delicacies that had, up until that moment, been enjoyed exclusively by the French Court, could now be served to Procopio’s bourgeois clients, thanks to a royal license granted by Louis XIV. And Procopio’s clients included the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau, Balzac and Hugo, and then continued on through the generations of Verlaine, George Sand and Oscar Wilde. It was at these tables that affairs of state were discussed and decided by Napoleon, Marat, Danton and Robespierre; it was here that Diderot and d’Alembert wrote the Enciclopedie.
While the clientele has come, gone and changed over the centuries, Procope (which is now a bistrot and brasserie), with its gold leaf décor and teardrop chandeliers, is still at its original address: 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie.