A Clean Saloon for Folks

photo, artist group of the week, martha holden and jana bednarkova Artists of the Week, Martha Holden and Jana Bednarkova.

Live Art and Chorizo

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 1. October:–  Uncle Den–Den has a theory. He says Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse is not like other cafés. He says it is a café–like place that is a community centre for folks who work and live in the quartier. He says its glassed terrace is for tourists, and the waiters out there treat them with the contempt the American press has told their readers to expect here. Uncle Den–Den has lots of strange theories.

It is true that I used Le Select as a wet way–station 30 years ago, between French classes at the Alliance Française, on the way to the Gare Montparnasse. I even worked nearby and often went to Le Select for inspiration. Even if none was found the service was tipo–topo, the booze was tasty and its interior saloon had more life to it than watching antics at La Coupole across the boulevard from the outer terrace.

So, the purpose of a visit on Saturday was to verify Uncle Den–Den's theory, which matched my memory, and find out if we both hadn't been eating magic mushrooms. Another possibility was that the place had been taken over by some frock dealer or turned into a playpen café for the iPodders.

On Saturday I was off by a couple of minutes of on–time. The terrace with its tiny tiles and many fronds was settled by the Hemmingway fans and the waiters were working on the profit–sharing. If you walk straight in to the bar there is a chorus of welcome and you can get through it by spreading around some stray bonjours.

photo, jana opening wine for the vernissage Jana opens non–explosive wine.

Then I stood there, making an inventory. Still tiles on the floor. Bar was still wood, with the patron on a little throne to the right. Behind the bar the usual wide selection of Scottish booze, and on the bar a huge chrome pot full of ice and Champagne, flanked by essential bar accessories like swizzle–sticks. Something had changed at the bar's left end – now there's a snug cubby where folks used to fight to get past to get to the water department downstairs.

Of course there's a glimpse of mirror behind the bottles behind the bar so Uncle Den–Den spotted me gawking around like a rube from Kansas City. Besides the patron, the barman and some waiters, we had the place almost to ourselves, expect for a couple of those folks who work and live nearby.

There was also an active rugby screen in the depths of the back room, where some iPod types were in obscurity. My excuses if they weren't – the waiters were craning for looks at the screen too. Otherwise Le Select has no musak and the clocks are even silent. Clocks – I mean one, still opposite the bar, where you can see it only if and when you are leaving.

Uncle Den–Den explained to me that the free snacks from the kitchen are great but there's none on Saturday. He was telling me the other wonders of this place that's like a time machine – was it 1976 again? – when I noticed a big tabby cat up on the edge of the cubby snug eying the side by the bar, and sure enough it hopped over, walked past and stepped delicately down to the work area behind to amble off.

photo, painting fancier Uncle Den–Den loves art.

The last thing you want to see in a serious bar is flitty little mice. Then a couple of barfolks came in and settled in the cubby, put their books on the bar and commenced reading. The barman brought them drinks, peanuts and olives. I got up and found a portrait of the cat – Mickey, le chat d'or – on a pillar behind some green bushes. Le Select is supposed to be an artists' hangout, but I don't think Picasso has been around for a while. It doesn't mean he wouldn't be welcome if he happened by.

A customer walked out, getting a chorus of goodbyes on the way. He looked like an arty type, with long hair and some pin–stripes. In fact Uncle Den–Den looked like an arty type. He was supposed to have been seeing some art film at Bercy, but he got sidetracked by some other thirsty arty types.

We finished our drinks and paid up. Even doing this in Le Select is cool. It's like a place for grown–ups – of a certain age! – but anyone who comes in can get service. But let me tell you, if it's inspiration you are looking for, stay off the terrace. Stay in, not out, since about 1925.

At 99. Boulevard du Montparnasse, near métro Vavin. Open late, until 02:30 or later. Has food too, which Uncle appreciates.

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