As read in Elle Decoration this month, the late 19th century saw a boom in popularity for Grand Cafés ‘offering coffee and conversation in elegant settings.’ They had vaulted ceilings, brass fittings, leather banquettes and marble-topped tables.
Looking at the photos of the modern-day examples, I wondered if something was missing.
If we had been lucky enough to drink in a grand café during the Belle Époque, wouldn’t we have seen large-leaved plants around us? I always picture this sort of setting in the jazz age of the 1920s and 30s, but even in late Victorian times, indoor plants were commonplace.
A quick bit of research turned up this interior photo of the Grand Café at South Western House, previously one of the grandest hotels in Southampton built in the 1870s, and there is a single palm, at least, on a piano/table:
A browse through Art UK also found these paintings of Grand Cafés, including Café Royal on Regent Street which opened in 1865:
No plants to be seen in ‘The Café Royal’, 1911, Charles Ginner (credit: Tate).
But, a striking palm in the ‘View of an Interior (probably in a café or night club), with a Dance Performance’, c1935-55, Muriel Minter (credit: The Geffrye, Museum of the Home).
And evidence of another palm here in ‘Neon, Café Pousset’ from 1934 by John Duncan Fergusson (credit: The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council).
On this evidence, I wonder if palms and perhaps also aspidistras should be considered for the Grand Café revival? Get in touch with any other leads please!