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The site of

"La Brasserie Dauphine"

Peter Foord

 
The establishment that Georges Simenon had in mind as the fictitious "Brasserie Dauphine" in some of his (mainly) Maigret novels and short stories was the Café Restaurant Aux Trois Marches which was situated not in the Place Dauphine but in the Rue de Harlay opposite the west facade of the Palais de Justice.

This short street runs from the Quai des Orfèvres to the Quai de l'Horloge. It was named after Achille de Harlay who was responsible for overseeing the planning and the construction of the triangular shaped Place Dauphine (completed in 1619) on the orders of King Henri IV.

The Café Restaurant Aux Trois Marches occupied the end building at the junction of the Rue de Harlay and the Quai de l'Horloge (marked in red on the map).

In the Fonds Simenon (the Archive in the University of Liège), there are photographs showing the author standing near the entrance to this establishment with the owner's wife framed in the doorway. Across the facade in large capital letters is its name CAFÉ RESTAURANT AUX TROIS MARCHES and a plaque on the wall near the corner of the building indicates the street name RUE DE HARLAY. Beyond the corner, on the extreme right of this photograph, a building situated on the Right Bank can be seen with its name depicted in huge letters above its top storey. This building is LA SAMARITAINE department store (indicated in red type on the map) that stands on the Place de l'École facing the Pont Neuf.

Other photographs show Simenon inside this establishment having a drink at the bar with the patron and other customers.

These photographs were taken in the spring of 1952 when Simenon, who was living at that time in the United States at Lakeville, Connecticut, was on a three-month visit to France, Italy and Belgium.

The largest reproductions of the photographs can be found in the following publications:

CONVERSATIONS AVEC SIMENON by Francis Lacassin, published in Geneva by La Sirène /Alpen 1990, pages 80 and 81.

SIMENON ET LA VRAI NAISSANCE DE MAIGRET by Francis Lacassin, published by Horizon Illimité 2003, pages 31 and 89. (This publication is an augmented and illustrated reprint of the 1992 edition).

In Patrick Marnham's biography entitled "THE MAN WHO WASN'T MAIGRET" (Bloomsbury, UK, 1992 / Farrar, Straus, Giroux, USA, 1993 and the reprints from Penguin and Harvest) a footnote on page 139, calls the establishment the "Trois Marchés" with an acute accent over the "e" of Marches. This small error would make the literal translation of this establishment as the "Three Markets Café" instead of the "Three Steps Café".

In the newly published French edition of Marnham's biography "L'HOMME QUI N'ÉTAIT PAS MAIGRET" (Presses de la Cité, May 2003) this error has been corrected.

A small point, but in all probability the Café derived its name from the structure in the street that was necessary to gain access to its entrance. In the 1952 photographs, Simenon is standing on a raised walkway in front of the Café that is higher than the street level. This walkway, which continues around the corner into the Quai de l'Horloge, has a metal railing running along its length as a safety barrier. Access to the walkway is by three steps ("trois marches") at the end of it. This walkway with its steps pre-dates this Café and goes back to the building of the west end of the Palais de Justice. The houses that stood along the base of the triangular ground plan of the Place Dauphine were demolished in 1874 to enable the newly built section of the Palais to be seen in all its glory. An engraving dated 1876 shows the view of the Palais and also the corner of the Rue de Harlay with its raised walkway and three steps.

The Café Restaurant Aux Trois Marches closed some years ago but in the late 1990s the site was renovated.

This photograph (above) that I took in February 1998 shows the refurbishment of the building with work still being carried out. The Quai de l'Horloge side of the building shows the two windows through which Maigret, in his "Brasserie Dauphine", observed the river — '…as he made his way to his own special table near the window, from which he could watch the Seine flow by.' (Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard [p.44] / Maigret and the Man on the Bench [p.45]). And …'Maigret had his corner by the window, from which he could see the Seine and the boats passing.' (Maigret and the Flea [p.74] / Maigret and the Informer [p.72]). Note: pages quoted are from the first editions.

These two photographs taken a year later, in February 1999, display the site with all the refurbishment completed. The photograph was taken from the same position as the 1952 version, but showing more of the facade, and has the department store La Samaritaine, on the Right Bank, appearing beyond the corner of the building.

This photograph shows the raised walkway with its metal railings and the three steps ("Aux Trois Marches") as access.

The establishment today is the Restaurant / Salon de Thé de la Maison du Barreau.

Connections

The Place Dauphine and the restoration of at lease three of the buildings have a link with another area associated with Simenon and Maigret. The design of the buildings that originally occupied the three sides of the triangular plan of the Place Dauphine was based on those of the Place Royale (from 1800 renamed the Place des Vosges). This latter and larger Square, instigated by the same King Henri IV, was completed in 1612. Both sites had houses with two storeys built above an arcaded ground floor. The facades of the buildings displayed white stone-work and red brick which has been preserved in the Place des Vosges, but the over the years many of the houses in the Place Dauphine have been altered beyond the original design or demolished. The restoration of the building that was the Café Restaurant Aux Trois Marches now displays the white stone-work and red brick to its facade, as does the other two restored buildings overlooking the Place du Pont Neuf, one of which, at N° 13, the Taverne (Tabac) Henri IV is mentioned in The Lock at Charenton: ' "Do you know the Tabac Henri-IV in the middle of the Pont Neuf? It's not far from the Police Judiciaire."' (p.46 UK, p.52 US) and in Maigret and the Spinster: 'He (Maigret) decided to go to the little bar opposite the statue of Henri IV, in the middle of the Pont Neuf.' (p.26 UK, p.29 US). Note: pages quoted are from the first editions.

There is another connection between the Place Dauphine and the works of Simenon. In 1952 the actress Simone Signoret (1921-85) and her husband the singer and actor Yves Montand (1921-91) moved into N° 15 Place Dauphine. Later Simone Signoret played leading roles in three films based on the novels by Georges Simenon. Two of the films were produced in 1971, LE CHAT, with Jean Gabin, based on the novel THE CAT, and LA VEUVE COUDERC, with Alain Delon, based on TICKET OF LEAVE / THE WIDOW. The third film of 1982 is entitled L'ÉTOILE DU NORD, not the Maigret short story of the same title, but based on the novel LE LOCATAIRE — THE LODGER — with Philippe Noiret. The film poster for LE CHAT has been used for the design of the recent 0,59 cents Belgian stamp.

Another inhabitant of the Place Dauphine, at N°22, was the artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Some commentators have suggested that there are links with certain aspects of this artist's life and Simenon's novel LE PETIT SAINT — THE LITTLE SAINT.

Reference:
1. A Basic Map of the western part of the Île de la Cité, Paris (Peter Foord 2003).
2. Photograph: The Refurbishment of the site in February 1998.
3. Photographs: Two views of the site in February1999 (all photographs by Peter Foord).

Peter Foord
UK

 

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