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chez popoff

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Fleet Foxes – Mykonos

When I was at the Villa St. Anne a few weekends back, J. was so kind as to reach a narrow arm up to a top kitchen shelf and pull down for me a 1969 edition of a guidebook to Paris written by two jolly-looking French men, Christian Millau and Henri Gault. If you ever read an original copy of a Nancy Drew mystery, you know what it smells like when you open this book up – that smell like reading on a rainy day in the attic of your house.

Many of the spots listed in the book are still there – Parisian classics like Laduree and La Coupole – but just as many have disappeared and are that much more alluring as souvenirs of a Paris now existing only in fading hardbacks like this one. One place in particular, an extinct Beatnik bistro in the 5e, drew my attention, and I thought if you’re anything like me you’d enjoy equally the idea of such a place as the satisfying, dated way it is illustrated, each sentence as pleasant for its slow, meticulous description as it is to watch someone take their time rolling a perfect cigarette.


…Popoff’s happens to be closed at the time of this writing, for reasons we prefer to skip…Most Parisians have never heard of Chez Popoff. But whenever one of those wild-haired young vagabonds, squeezed into grayish T-shirts and faded jeans, who hitchhike here, there and everywhere with bouncing knapsack and flying beard, runs into a like specimen in San Francisco, Hamburg, Rotterdam or New Delhi and wants to get together in Paris, there’s just one place that comes to mind….

Tyrolian knapsacks and sailors’ duffel bags pile up in the back room while their owners are out looking for a room or lying in the sun on the banks of the Seine. Even though many of them consider grime the emblem of social protest, a few Vikings, still conditioned by their native Scandinavia, crowd around the washbasin (soap and towels are free).

These glorious youths, most of whom come from Northern Europe or the English-speaking countries, spend hours sprawled on the benches, waiting for heaven only knows what over a cup of coffee that has long been drained. When they’re hungry they buy a piece of bread from the baker across the street and salami or olives from the grocer next door, then come back for a picnic under the proprietor’s paternal eye.

For Monsieur Popoff is a broad-minded man and prides himself on his understanding and affection for footloose youngsters. “You’ve got to help the kids out,” he says in his gentle voice. And whenever a Finn with thick, curly locks wants to buy a cigarette from him, he takes his pack from his pocket and graciously offers him a Gauloise.”


Written by bellaheureuse

April 15, 2010 at 10:08 pm

7 Responses

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  1. please tell me you found this place and that it’s still around?

    liz rose

    April 16, 2010 at 10:35 am

  2. Love the nostalgia smack down of Chez Popoff. I remember it well. Sadly, it is long gone. The rue de la Huchette as it was in that era lives only in memory, a few songs, and stories to younger generations.


    April 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

  3. This is very nicely done– the comparison of the smell of the old guidebook to what one finds in an attic, the sensitivity to the prose style….

    Have you ever thought of reading Proust?

    (Hint: It’s especially good if left to age in someone else’s flat, before opening….)


    April 17, 2010 at 10:38 pm

  4. I remember Chez Popoff from he Sixties – truly a warm refuge, a twp-footprint toilet, cold running water and true, true tolerance of and hospitality for every passing waif, stray, hitchiker, backpacker (they called us all ‘Beatniks’ back then, though many thought of ourselves as the next generation: Hippies.
    I often wondered if it was still there, sad, passing of an era – and all that.

    Nick Laurie

    January 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    • I remember it quite well too, spent quite a few hours there during the summer of 1966. Your comment and the text above is very accurate. When I visited Paris again in 1977 the place was closed but the fading name of Chez Popoff was still to find and noone else had moved in yet. Later the street gradually changed but it was still not too bad when I stayed at a hotel there in 2002. Now it seems to be like any other tourist street anywhere.
      Cay, Sweden

      Cay Bernhardsson

      December 11, 2014 at 7:04 pm

  5. Remember it well from 1957, my first hang-out in Paris. Madame Popoff at first thought I was Swedish but I hailed from the not so far Strasbourg…


    July 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm

  6. I’m so glad that Chez Popoff is not forgotten – I was there in April 1968, as an English Beatnik verging on Hippie…. Somehow I managed to leave France before the amazing events of May 68. It wasn’t quite so exciting back in London.


    Jane Thurlow

    December 2, 2011 at 2:17 am

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