Even the Nazis didn’t shut down the nightlife entirely when they occupied Paris; they liked the food and wine too much. Or so Parisiennes were saying Saturday night as the totality of it all sank in.
“This happened so fast. Incredible. Absurd,” said one of the denizens of the Archi Bar, a Kleenex-box-size establishment in the historical literary and artistic neighborhood of Montparnasse. The drunken graduate student, who had a friendly, pliable face reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s, drained a glass of red wine at the bar while his tall friend in the knit cap drank both red and swilled a beer; then they quickly summoned shots of an anise-flavored liquor and downed them; then beer.
It was about 11:30 and now time to really get down to business. They started slathering each others’ hands with sanitizer.
“I will drink! I will drink the gel,” roared the grad student, whose name got lost in raucous laughter and blare of “Rock the Casbah” on the stereo.
It approaches cliche to say that Parisians live in bars and cafes, but there are elemental reasons as to why they do. For one thing, apartments here are small, at times cold and dark. Why not instead spend your hours in the warm company of your fellow citizens, reenacting timeless rituals of food and drink, the leisurely aperitif or the two-hour double espresso?
People actually still read newspapers in French cafes. Broke American artists and writers took comfort in the cafes in the 1920s. Broke people do the same.
As midnight approached, the Archi Bar became packed with regulars, from young students to pensioners. A Jimi Hendrix poster and statuette of Marilyn Monroe competed with other American pop culture bric-a-brac, including a placard of dialogue from the movie Scarface (“Say hello to my little friend!”) Outside, smoking roll-your-own cigarettes was a contingent of sociology majors hotly debating socialism — and, yes, Bernie Sanders.
There was actually little talk of the virus; what’s done was done.
The hole in the wall on Rue Campagne Premiere is not far from famed establishments such as Le Dome, Le Select and La Closerie de Lilas, but it is many miles apart in atmosphere. Still, there is commonality in this part of the hospitality industry, which provides very respectable and coveted careers.
The bartenders, waiters and other workers will be fine: The state is covering the salaries of all those idled by the shutdown.
As midnight struck, the proprietor of Archi Bar ordered shots of a green liqueur for everyone left standing, about 25 of us, then squeezed and herded us to the door.
The impossibly tipsy Kinda-Quentin, his buddy Knit Cap and their friend Sophie invited an American to join them at their next drinking spot, not far away, just down the Boulevard du Montparnasse.
But wait: wasn’t everything shut down?
They chuckled slyly, suggesting some sort of speakeasy.
But first they stopped at a corner store for two six packs of beer, a bottle of white and a bottle of red.
Then a few more blocks. Then they hopped over an ornamental fence into a huge park. There was no bar here. It was a tree and bench in the Luxembourg Gardens — where Hemingway took long walks when he was a very poor writer here in 1921.
Forget the virus, forget the closed bars, never mind the panic. Just sit down, drink and sing. It would all be over soon, the young people told me.
And Paris would still be here. Their Paris.