Lonely Planet Writer

Parisian bistros and cafes seek Unesco ‘intangible cultural heritage’ status

An association of industry professionals is campaigning for Paris’ iconic bistros and cafe terraces to be recognised by Unesco as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding’. If successful, they would join the French gastronomic meal, which was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2010.

A traditional bistro in spring time, near Notre Dame, Paris, France. Image by ©ventdusud/Shutterstock

The president of the association, owner of Parisian bistro Le Mesturet, Alain Fontaine, and vice president, Jean-Pierre Chedal, believe the bistros are instrumental in bringing people of all origins, religions, ages and walks of life together in an affordable, welcoming place for a drink or a meal. Famed for their zinc counters, inexpensive wine and homemade plats du jour (daily specials), these informal spaces are cornerstones of Parisian life, but are threatened by rising rents and changing social habits (such as fewer long lunch breaks).

Paris’ bistros and cafe terraces were targeted during the November 2015 terrorist attacks, where innocent victims lost their lives when gunmen indiscriminately opened fire, but they were also emblematic of the city’s resilience. In the wake of the attacks, the hashtag #jesuisenterrasse (‘I am on the terrace’) demonstrated Parisians’ refusal to live in fear.

Paris cafes and bistros lobby for Unesco World Heritage status
Cafe-restaurant on the Champs Elysees, Paris. Photo by: Bruno De Hogues/Getty Images

The drive for Paris’ bistros and cafe terraces to attain Unesco status is supported by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, as well as celebrities including actor-director Jacques Weber, comedian Pierre Arditi and singer Marianne James. The case will be put to the Ministry of Culture in September 2018; the ministry will decide whether it will then submit the application to Unesco.

It follows a similar bid by Paris’ bouquinistes – the iconic secondhand booksellers, whose dark-green boxes line the banks of the Seine – to gain Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage status: aspects of traditional culture that aren’t restricted to monuments or geographic places.

By Catherine Le Nevez