L'Open Café

Walk into one of the oldest gay cafés in the area, known for their delicious plates throughout the day and great drinks at night. This establishment has endured the test of time and nowadays one of the main challenges it faces is gentrification in the area.

When considering the LGBTQ presence in Le Marais it is important to highlight the commercial aspect that initially drew in the LGBTQ community. Businesses in Le Marais were open to the LGBTQ public, accepting them as customers and displaying the LGBTQ flag as a sign that the business was LGBTQ friendly. Initially, the first business to become LGBTQ friendly was Le Ville, a gay bar that opened in 1978. After that, many other businesses owners saw the LGBTQ community as an opportunity for profit, which is why they decided to open establishments in Le Marais. Among these was L’Open Café, one of the oldest LGBTQ friendly precincts in the area. According to their website, L’Open Café was established in the 1980’s, during the LGBTQ boom in the neighborhood. Nowadays, this café doubles as a bar at night and it is the go-to site for a night out in Le Marais.
In 2017, an article about the café was published in the famous Parisian newspaper Libération. In this article, the owner of the café was interviewed about the development of the business throughout the years and how he has coped with gentrification in Le Marais. With the passing of time, the business has had to adapt to a rise in real-estate prices and competition from other cafés around the area. What started out as a bar has transformed into a restaurant/café during the day and a bar at night. The business is popular for serving brunch until very late, a wide variety of lunch plates, champagne and cocktail happy hour, and a lively party scene at night. During the day, the café offers a wide range of meal options and it is a very tourist-oriented establishment. The staff is friendly and they all speak English; even the menu has English subtitles. This establishment is situated at a corner location and it is ideal for people watching. The café competes with other LGBTQ owned businesses around the area, such as 4pat. However, unlike 4pat, this restaurant displays its pride in a different, subtler manner. There are hints, such as the LGBTQ flag on the menu, the logo, which is designed after the LGBTQ flag, the fact that most of the staff is part of the LGBTQ community, and posters that adorn the entrance and that announce LGBTQ events around the area.
During the day the atmosphere is very family-friendly, LGBTQ friendly, and very touristy. However, during the night the atmosphere is very different and very much a party scene. Happy hour attracts LGBTQ locals and some tourists. After dinner, most locals and tourists stop by for a drink and the café is almost unrecognizable. Although it keeps serving dinner throughout the night, past 10 p.m. most people go for the drinks. The roof of the café is lit up in different colors, displaying the LGBTQ pride flag. This is the go-to place for a night out, where you can get reasonably priced drinks and you can meet a lot of interesting people. During the night, the LGBTQ presence is more noticeable. It is interesting that this establishment appeals to mostly twenty plus LGBTQ individuals, perhaps because of the ambiance. It is very much a place where you sit down and chat with those around you, get to know people, and then go somewhere else. Younger LGBTQ individuals prefer a club atmosphere, rather than sitting down and chatting, which is why it is less common to see younger LGBTQ individuals at night.
It should be noted that most of the staff in the café is male, which hints at the fact that LGBTQ life in Le Marais is very male-centered. The posters in the entrance that announced LGBTQ events in the area also were targeting a male audience. Although the café is very male-oriented it is very receptive to the international LGBTQ clientele, which is why the menu is in English and the staff can speak various languages. However, there is one challenge that the café still has not fully tackled. The owner, Bernard Bousset, a recognized member of the Parisian LGBTQ community, advocate against AIDS, and co-founder of the Syndicat National des Enterprises Gays (National Union of Gay Businesses) is now 75 years old and has seen the café change throughout the years. In his interview with Libération, he said the café is struggling with gentrification, which is displacing LGBTQ businesses out of Le Marais. This is not just the reality of LGBTQ establishments in the area, but also all over France; small businesses are being replaced by big brands. In his words, “Gay bars and other community establishments such as the Agora bookshop press have in turn closed their doors, replaced by luxury boutiques and ready-to-wear signs. All this in a dozen years” (Bardou). The street where the complex lies has been spared from gentrification for now. Bousset is scared of what may happen in the future and states, “When I bought the walls, the neighborhood was worthless. But even then, nobody wanted it. Today is ten times more expensive” (Bardou). The pressure to keep up with the times is the driving force behind the change that the café has experienced. There is great speculation about whether the government will be the one to intervene and save small businesses. There is also talk about whether it is possible for the gayborhood to relocate elsewhere. Until now L’Open Café will have to keep adapting to the changing times.

Images

Map

17 Rue des Archives, 75004 Paris