When thinking of France, particularly Paris, one evokes glamorous and romantic images of the cafés littéraires (literary cafés) of haut société. Having studied the artists Toulouse Lautrec and Edgar Degas and their portrayals of these Parisian haunts, I have come to realise that this vie bohème (bohemian lifestyle) was much more than pompous nobility of the era sipping tea and discussing the latest trends. They were in fact also places where the everyday individual could go to console themselves about their impoverished lives. These places fascinate me: from the romantic images of the literary elite finding their inspiration in the art deco surroundings, to the not so glamorous idea of people frequenting them as an escape from solitude.
When visiting Paris I have visited these cafés many a time, my favourite activity being looking past the inevitable tourist glare and daydreaming about what it would have been like to sit in the same spot decades ago amongst the writers, the artists and the bohemians of Degas and Lautrec.
Unfortunately my current location means that I cannot pop along to these cafés with ease. However, in Bath I have found a modern day equivalent in ‘Society Café’ on Kingsmead Square. Here I have wound away the last couple of afternoons minding my own business (well, maybe also minding other people’s business as they planned weddings and discussed the music industry and up-and-coming artists…). The incredibly friendly staff are a refreshing change to modern day hostility: they not only remembered me from the day before but let me sit peacefully for a couple of hours without making me feel I was in the way or that they were trying to get me out once I had given them my custom. I felt back in the café culture of France where the ambiance is to be enjoyed and you are left at ease to enjoy your coffee (in this instance two varieties of hot chocolate: the first incredibly sweet white chocolate with subtle hints of vanilla and the second a milk chocolate a bit less sweet but just as tasty, both made with giant chocolate buttons!) Also not to miss are the giant chocolate bourbons and the delicate pastries from the local Bertinet Bakery.
A recent venture, I am sure this café will become a home from home for many locals, be they haut société or not.