The legend of Julien
Two years before the French Revolution began, Mr Jean-François Gauthier set up a tavern (today it would be called a café) at the sign of the White Horse at 16 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Shortly afterwards, Citizen Gauthier became one of its uncompromising revolutionaries sitting at the tribunal.
Regular customers would enjoy sitting at tables in the shade of the acacia trees in the large garden, or under the elegant rotunda. During the 1830s, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, a painter who was protesting against academicism, defended his ideas and explained his feelings there. Around him were other artists from the Romantic movement or from the Barbizon School, who heralded Impressionism: Paul Huet or Théodore Rousseau, and also their friend – Alexandre Dumas.
It became one of the first “concert-cafés” in the area, even starting the fashion. In 1857, Mademoiselle Agar – who would become one of the greatest actresses of the Comédie Française – sang there.
The owner, Edouard Fournier, decided in 1901 to build a new building, a “bouillon”, or restaurant where customers could eat meat and vegetable broth.
Fournier asked imaginative Art Nouveau artists and poets to decorate the restaurant. They adorned it with flowers, peacocks and nymphs that appeared and disappeared in the reflections from the great mirrors.
Fournier’s nephew, Julien Barbarin, inherited the restaurant in the 1920s. He wanted to let in the bright sunlight to provide a delicate illumination for the flowers and nymphs. To do this, he commissioned three huge mirrors decorated with flowers, and these were designed by Charles Buffet, none other than the father of painter Bernard Buffet.
In 1938, Julien Barbarin bequeathed his name the establishment, known from then on as “Chez Julien”. Piaf, the “Little Sparrow”, brought her friends there, not far from the hall where her great love Marcel Cerdan trained. Jean-Paul Bucher acquired the premises in 1975, and it became a brasserie, whose success is well known. In the midst of its extraordinary décor, unchanged by the passage of time, you will sometimes bump into personalities as varied as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Fabrice Luchini, Lorànt Deutsch or Angelina Jolie on a trip to Paris.
© Thomas Dufresne