The Versailles of Cafés

I just happened to be passing through Place de l’Opéra this afternoon when I was reminded of a place I definitely ought to share with you. Now, to set this up properly, imagine that you’re standing in Place de l’Opéra. The first thing you notice, of course, is the Paris Opéra house, its gilded rooftop statuary glimmering against a blue sky (or gray as the case usually is this time of year). As you turn counterclockwise to look down the avenues that converge there, you next catch sight of Place Vendôme to the southwest, and the column erected there to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz. Continuing counterclockwise toward the southeast, you then make out the gray slate rooftop of the Louvre at the far end of avenue de l’Opéra. Finally, turning back towards the northeast and peering up the boulevard des Capucines you glimpse a familiar green sign:


Now, before you throw up your hands and tell me how ridiculous I’m being … what you don’t know is that there is a real gem hidden behind those doors.

In this particular neighborhood, you expect to see grandiose monuments, chichi stores, and upscale cafés and chic restaurants, so it comes as no surprise that Starbucks would want to be just as ostentatious … and it is!

To open the gallery, simply click on one of the photos below (or on a white space if nothing appears). You will then be able then scroll through all of the photos in a larger format.

Pretty, huh?

My friend Anouk introduced me to this Starbucks location (Starbucks Capucines) last fall, but by this afternoon, I’d already forgotten the backstory. When I picked up my espresso macchiato from the barista, I asked him if he knew what the place used to be. He admitted that he had no idea … even though he gets asked the question all the time. I did a little research, and it appears that Starbucks Capucines occupies part of the space that was once La Maison Liberty, an upscale department store like Printemps or Galeries Lafayette. Following the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the fashionable London retailer Liberty & Co. opened a store at 38 avenue de l’Opéra, but later moved into a larger location nearby, with “vast salons in the Empire style, like those of the great Parisian couture houses.” Although La Maison Liberty was a very successful enterprise, it was forced to close its doors shortly after the enactment of protectionist trade laws in 1929.

La Maison Liberty reportedly sold scarves, shawls, hand-painted fabrics, cushions, and oriental art in the first-floor salons that are now Starbucks real estate. So, the next time you’re sipping a cappuccino at Starbucks Capucines, just imagine that you’re doing it while shopping for a new silk foulard alongside all the other fashionable Parisians of the Gilded Age.

Starbucks Capucines is located at 3, boulevard des Capucines, less than a block from the Opéra Métro station in the 2nd arrondissement.

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

7 thoughts on “The Versailles of Cafés

    1. Indeed! I have a real love-hate relationship with Starbucks. As much as I dislike big corporate enterprises (read Walmart, Starbucks) on principle, at least Starbucks is halfway decent in its policies towards its employees and producers. I guess the positive side of this is that the architecture is being preserved, even if it is by a sprawling corporate coffee house. Of course, it is certainly sad that something as beautiful as this is in a Starbucks and not a museum, right?!

      1. Same here! I fall for the pumpkin spice or gingerbread latte occasionally, but I get some just a tasty at the local “Coffee Underground”, an establishement that has been downtown Greenville since the beginning (which also happened to be one of the only places John could take me on a date after all restaurants closed and we were still talking, and sipping coffee, and talking…).
        McDonald’s is pretty good at buying real estate too, in fact, that is a major income stream for those big franchises. But you are right, Starbucks takes good care of its employees, especially compared to Wal-Mart (or my company!)…
        Enjoy the “Versailles of coffee houses”, but you have not lived until you experience a Sachertorte and coffee in Vienna:… The epitome of coffee culture: coffee served on a silver platter, people talking, reading the paper, playing chess… (sigh of my trip down memory lane…)

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