Many years ago when I was very young, a genteel old gentleman asked me my name, and I was so young that I gave him my full name. My surname was Robinson, and the old man told me that he had dined at a restaurant at the top of a tree, in Paris, and the restaurant was called Robinson. I remember thinking he was just being silly, to amuse me. After all, how could there be a restaurant in a tree? And why would anyone call a restaurant “Robinson”?
So I was flabberghasted when a post appeared in one my newsfeeds on social media.
“Les Guinguettes de Robinson was the place to be in the summer of the 1850s. Parisians descended to the small district south of the city en masse to relax high up in the branches of chestnut trees and dance in the forest. It all began in 1848 in the hamlet of St. Eloi when an inkeeper was inspired by the popular myth of Robinson Crusoe.”
He created a restaurant perched in an old Chestnut tree he called the Grand Robinson. It was an instant success and competing taverns and restaurants multiplied quickly, adopting the same Crusoe theme along the Rue Malabry. In 1888, “Le Grand Robinson”, not to be confused with “the Grand Arbre”, which set up shop just opposite, had to change its name to “Le Vrai Arbre de Robinson” (the Real Tree Robinson”), in order to set itself apart from the competition.
Customers in chestnut treehouses were served lunch of roast chicken and champagne, their meals hoisted up to them in baskets via rope pulley systems. In 1855, a food critic wrote that ‘lavish tables were set and lovebirds without feathers but forks in hand exchanged happy kisses in the breeze, witnessed only by the foliage’.
For Parisians who couldn’t flock to the seaside during the summer months (but could now escape the city thanks to the expansion of the “suburban” railway lines around Paris in the late 1850s), Les Guingettes de Robinson provided a uniquely enchanting and exotic summer adventure. For over a century, this Robinson Crusoe Village was a Parisian paradise.
For many more photos and the history of what happened to these restaurants, see Messy Nessy Chic The Treehouse Restaurants of Bygone Paris
I reckon the old man must have been a very dapper young gent when he visited, and I envy him those memories of dining in a tree top in Paris.