The village bar/café is a typically French institution. Our nostalgic vision of French rural life places the café at the heart of the village along with the church, the school, the mairie, the boulangerie and epicerie.
Some café/bars also doubled as the village resturant and often the general store. Usually situated at the village square and boules (or pétanque) piste.
Rather like the pubs we now reminisce about they were at the centre of small town and village life. A place to nip into for a quick café express on the way to work, a baguette jambon fromage at lunchtime and an apéritif on the way home before dinner. A place to catch up on the local gossip, to argue about politics, where you went to find a builder or tradesman, somewhere to discuss business and negotiate a price.
Sadly there has been an enormous decline in this institution from the middle of the last century. In 1960 there were thought to be around 600,000 cafés throughout France but by 2014 the number had dwindled to near 34,500 and 70% of communes no longer have a café.
Why is the café disappearing? Explanations proposed include rural depopulation, the ban on smoking and the rising cost of drinks. There is another reason advanced, linked to the rural exodus: many rural café-restaurants were once family owned and run. But a lot of people don't want to work in the family café anymore and are going elsewhere to find jobs. Once you have to start employing people, running a buiness in France becomes a whole different ball game.
With the diaspora of the younger rural population and the growing age of those remaining more and more local café/bars continue to close at an ever increasing pace. Each shuttering is akin to the loss of the soul of a village leaving remaining inhabitants with few places to socialise as they have for centuries.
There is however a small ray of hope in an initiative by the French Government. Jean-Marc Borello, a former teacher and now special advisor to Emmanuel Macron, has been allocted 150 million Euros to launch a rescue plan. Focusing on smaller rural villages, it is intended to assist with the re-opening of 1,000 café/bars in an attempt to halt or hopefully reverse the decline.
French Café Bistro Glasses in our Collection