Prunier Restaurant, Paris
The premier seafood restaurant in Paris was the wonderfully fashionable Prunier’s at 9 Rue Duphot near the Madeleine. It was proud of the fact that every conceivable dish possible that has shellfish as a basis could be served to its eager clientele.
Prunier’s was founded in 1872 by Alfred Prunier and was a striking example of how a big modern restaurant grew up. At first it was simply a modest oyster shop consisting of one small room on the ground floor and a larger restaurant above. People came to eat half a dozen oysters and drink a glass of white wine. It was also patronised primarily by foreigners especially English and American since the French did not appreciate oysters at the time. One day an American came in and showed M. Prunier how to cook oysters. He swiftly added scalloped oysters and oyster stew to the menu and business boomed.
Russian aristocrats also patronised Prunier’s Oyster bar, since Madame Prunier, prior to her marriage, had been housekeeper to Princess Dolgorouky. The Princess and their family made a point of supporting them with their custom and brought many of the friends to dine there.
Just before the death of Alfred Prunier (in 1898), a proper restaurant was added and the fish side diluted somewhat. When his son Emile took over in 1901 he devoted more attention back to fish and sea food and expanded the menu. Emile began importing oysters from Burnham, Colchester and Whitstable and little neck clams and blue points from America. Emile added a big fish shop downstairs near the oyster bar in about 1915 and did huge business in caviar.
During the 1920s it consisted of several Salles and covered an enormous site stretching almost half of the street. The oyster bar and shop was always crowded and between 12 and 1 and 6 -7 pm the place was always crammed with people consuming oysters in all forms including oyster cocktails with buttered brown bread and a glass of white wine.
The luxurious restaurant upstairs was equally busy and full of festivity and served a vast range of dishes from oysters, bouillabaisse and bisque soup to homard Americain, mussels ad coquilles and sole Prunier to name but a few. On average Prunier’s had a thousand customers per day for lunch and dinner and opened 17,000 oysters daily. They also consumed 3-4 tons of fish and one ton of lobsters and crabs per day. It was an amusing place for the tourist because it was the perfect place to see a comprehensive picture of all the various types that go to make up the exuberant life of Paris.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
The Gay City by Arthur Phillips
Dining in Paris by Sommerville Story