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Elizabeth Street


Mom's Day Off: Café Kings

Apr 19, 2012

Mom's Day Off: Café Kings

In his essay collection Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik attempts to solve what he calls the Two-Café Problem, or the question of why the Café de Flore endures as a bastion of style, while one of its neighbors, Les Deux Magots, was dismissed by Parisian tastemakers long ago. One of his friends blames the tourists’ kiss of death, while another says that when any two things are compared, one will necessarily become fashionable in relation to the other.
Enter the new variable of La Société, the latest addition to the Costes brothers’ service industry empire, which sits next to Deux Magots on the Boulevard Saint-Germain and begs us (well, actually, it’s too fashionably aloof for groveling) to revisit the laws of Parisian chic. Ultimately, it’s a question of how a shiny newcomer will stack up next to a left-bank legend, and the answer may come down to something as arbitrary as taste. 

If you can think of a place that serves a crab omelet for upwards of thirty dollars as quaint, the red leather banquettes at Flore seem simple compared to the custom-made mahogany furniture at La Société. Aesthetics have always been a key ingredient in the Costes formula. The brothers’ first property, Café Costes, rose to prominence thanks to designer Philippe Starck’s playful panache, and the brothers have been trying to outdo themselves ever since. For La Société, the Costes’ went with a classic but sleek look, complete with high ceilings, large columns, and a dark color palette, courtesy of Christian Liaigre.

While the cuisine at La Société—dishes like Thai spring rolls and tuna tataki—airs on the simpler side of fusion, as opposed to the French staples served up at the Flore, both restaurants are the sort to drive serious foodies crazy for privileging style over culinary innovation. Still, there’s something to be said for beauty, and there’s nothing faux about that found at La Société. In addition to the lovely people, you’ll find photos by Peter Lindbergh and sculptures by Mathieu Lévy and Sara Favriau. 

Whatever the power of solid design and a devoted following, it’s unlikely that La Société will unseat Café de Flore. At the same time, it seems more than the fad du jour. Maybe then, this strip of Saint-Germain has become some sort of alternate universe where popularity ceases to be a zero-sum game. After all, if Karl Lagerfeld eats his cake (or his steamed vegetables, at least) at the Flore and Costes establishments, you can too! Now the only question is whether you’ll be sufficiently bold to avoid the heart of the scene inside either café and enjoy that dessert on one of the objectively delightful but decidedly less-cool terraces. —Kate Guadagnino

Photo courtesy of: Terence Le Goubin / Stringer / Getty Images