PARIS — An American looking for a quiet, restful bar in Paris has a difficult time. The French do not really go to bars. They go to brasseries-- the all-purpose cafes so numerous that there seem to be two on every city block.
Most customers crowd against the long bar of the brasserie for breakfast, coffee, sandwiches, lunch, pastry, juice, bottled water, beer, wine, pastis, and brandy. A large glass of beer costs about $1.40, a glass of wine about the same. Sometimes business is so brisk that the bartender has to pass you a sandwich over the shoulders of other customers.
For a much higher price, and with much slower service, you can order the same fare at tables in the front, usually set up on the sidewalk as well during warm months, and while away an hour or two gazing at Parisian pedestrians or writing a novel. Hot lunches and dinners are served in the back at tables so packed together that, if you wave a hand, you can knock over a bottle of wine at a neighboring table.
Parisians do not have favorite brasseries, only convenient ones. When I feel like a coffee or a sandwich or a beer, I head to the closest brasserie. I enjoy them, even though they all seem to look alike and serve the same things.