A Taste Of Paris
by jennifer rubell
There's just something about a real restaurant that's open 24 hours a day. Not your average diner or sandwich joint, but a proper place to get a proper meal at 4 in the morning. If it survives (and that’s not necessarily easy to do), it becomes an institution, a place where rock stars head straight from the studio while recording their latest album, where models and moguls hang out after a night of partying, where jet-lagged travelers go for an outrageously early breakfast and run into the city's best chefs just getting off their shifts. It becomes a hub, a magical space where previously separate worlds collide. It changes the city it exists in, and defines that city’s late-night essence.
That's what Au Pied de Cochon did when it debuted in Paris in 1947. Opened by Clément Blanc—a butcher at the Les Halles wholesale meat market who specialized in pigs—the original location was conceived of as a casual restaurant for Blanc's workers after they got off their early-morning shifts. The menu focused on lesser-known cuts of pork, straight from Blanc's stall at Les Halles, such as the restaurant's namesake dish, pigs’ feet (plus ears and tails, too); rich, cheesy French onion soup (which the French think is the ultimate hangover preventer); oysters; and other classic brasserie fare. Of course it was a casual restaurant Paris-style, which meant plenty of marble, towering platters of seafood, crisp white tablecloths and servers in Parisian black and white, plus a strong dose of pig-themed whimsy, from murals to vases to table legs in the shape of pigs’ feet. In the beginning, a real baby pig named Oscar even lived in a pen in front of the restaurant. (He retired in the ’80s after a complaint from restaurant patron and animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot.)
Quickly, Paris’ cultural cognoscenti caught on to Au Pied de Cochon's working-class charm and late-night hours and made it their own clubhouse. Revelers winding up their night slurped oysters next to meat haulers and off-duty butchers. Patrons from all walks of life passed out on banquettes. Street musicians came to play for tips. Movie stars, socialites, moguls, writers, politicians and mere mortals all ended up there. Serge Gainsbourg was a regular. Salvador Dalí came with his wife. Maria Callas, Josephine Baker and Charles de Gaulle went. It was a rollicking, wild, wonderful world that became a defining cultural institution, and is still the best possible place to be at 4 AM in Paris.
photographs by gary james