Wednesday, January 17, 2018


I wanted to write a little more about the rooftop café at the old Samaritaine department store. I mentioned yesterday that the store is closed now. The store was established in 1870 and gets its name from a water pump that once existed on the Pont Neuf (bridge) across the street. The pump was adorned with a sculpture of the biblical story of Jesus and the Samaritan and Parisians eventually started calling the pump "la Samaritaine."

The Pont des Arts and some other famous landmarks seen from the rooftop café at La Samaritaine. Color slide, 199?.

The current collection of buildings that housed the department store were built around the turn of century (1900, I guess I shouldn't use that phrase any more) with the main buildings constructed in the Art Nouveau style. The store's success and its remarkable architecture made it a landmark on the Paris riverfront.

Fast-forward to 1981, when I arrived in Paris for the fist time as a student. The store was still open for business and I shopped there from time to time. Their 1960s slogan, On trouve tout à la Samaritaine (You can find everything at the Samaritaine) was well known and still in use.

One of the features of the store was the rooftop café. Back then, the café was like its counterparts on the street level with outdoor seating and waiters for table service. Ken and I and many of our student friends started hanging out up there when the weather was good. It was a somewhat hidden gem of a place, never crowded, at least in my memory, and it offered some of the best views in Paris for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

Ken and I went back to the café in the '90s, but it had changed into a more modern self-serve coffee shop with vending machines and modern plastic tables and chairs. No more table service, no more waiters. The views were still great, but the ambiance left a lot to be desired. Shortly after that, the place closed down as the building was sold, then condemned, and then incorporated into a serious redevelopment project, not without some historic preservation and design controversy.

I don't have any photos of the store when it was open, but I have this one that I took in 2016 when the building was covered in scaffolding for renovation. Here's a better photo of the store from the Wikipedia site.


  1. I had a somewhat different slogan for the Bon Marché which was closer to me, You can find everything at le Bon Marché, except what you are looking for!

  2. Thanks for the links. Now I want to see what replaced it all. Will search for images. I also recently said turn of the century. I said it to a 26-year-old, "My grandmother went to NY at the turn-of-the-century." She had no idea what I was talking about.

  3. I always remember the sight of that imposing building in the 1980s, especially at night when I always passed it on my way to disco the night away (with refreshing intervals of cruising).

  4. And did you go up the stairs to the cupola that had drawings all around of the landscape with the buildings identified? That was my favorite thing.

  5. chm, LOL!

    mitch, nobody says "turn of the millennium" yet. It doesn't really roll off the tongue the same way.

    raybeard, ha!

    sillygirl, yes! That's where I was when taking these photos.


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