13 June 2017

n.d.p. in lyon: brasserie georges, 69002

To recommend a restaurant on the basis of anything other than food, service, or wine has always seemed very foolish, like recommending a tailor because he plays excellent piano. I still recall my revulsion when upon arriving in France in 2009, an acquaintance took me to Derrière, a Paris restaurant famous for containing, in a rear space accessed through a Narnia-like wardrobe door, a sort of playroom, replete with ping-pong. What are we, I thought, children at a birthday party?

Yet I will profess that, during visits to Lyon over the past two years, among my most moving dining experiences has been at Brasserie Georges, a vast, ancient institution where the charm is mostly historical. The food - a solid impression of traditional dishes of Lyon and Alsace - and the wine - a safe selection of mostly reputable conventional estates - are both remarkable only for a restaurant of Brasserie Georges' immense size. It measures 667m2; seven hundred guests can be served per service.

Restaurants on this titanic scale tend to make one feel like a cog in a large machine. The nostalgic triumph of Brasserie Georges is to hark back to an early-modern era when large machines, and even sensations of anonymity, were novel and inspiring. The restaurant was founded in 1836 - the time of Baudelaire - but there is a distinctly Futurist zing in the air. Seated in the reverberating bustle of Brasserie Georges, one feels suffused with a strange hope, resembling the exhilaration of a Hollywood villain expositing over the loud, steady construction of his doomsday device.

To be honest, there was no reverberating bustle the first time I visited Brasserie Georges. The Native Companion and I had just flown from Corsica to Lyon and it was 3PM on a Sunday in mid-August. Neither of us had had breakfast. I was positively astonished the learn Brasserie Georges was open and serving. (The restaurant serves between normal meal hours, and never closes for vacation.) Over the phone in the taxi, I reserved us a table for two, a completely ludicrous precaution, I soon learned, because at that hour on that day that month, the restaurant was as deserted as a ghost-town saloon.

Without the visual obstruction of other patrons, we were struck by the full splendour of Brasserie George's dining hall, which remains fixed in the eternal swank of a 1924 art-deco redesign by the painter Bruno Guillermin.

The room's flawless emptiness certainly contributed to a sensation of timelessness during our meal.

Moony-eyed, I debated ordering a bottle of Domaine Louis-Claude Desvignes' rather extractive Morgon, but as the NC wasn't keen on helping me, and it was mid-summer, I lumped instead for the brasserie's own beer, fresh and innocuous, massively improved by its satisfying glassware.

I left for the toilet at an inopportune time, missing the table-side dicing of the Native Companion's steak tartare.

Happily the theatre continued with the service of my bale of sauerkraut, which our waiter briskly arranged on my plate according to a classical plan theretofore unknown to me, before lighting two small candles beneath the remainder to keep it warm.

Throughout the meal, I couldn't help craning my neck to gaze down the restaurant's endlessly repeating rows of tables, thinking how fun it would be to circle them on roller-skates.

It wasn't until I returned earlier this spring that I realized how impractical it would be to undertake such a thing on a typical evening at Brasserie Georges. On a Saturday in April the place was thumping, fully animated by a kind of Gatsby-esque charade, where a jazz band in dinner attire presided over a horde of families and older couples holding buzzers, awaiting indication of a free table.

What appeared to be a line for the bar was, in true French fashion, no such thing, in fact just a squadron of tourists who had assumed there would be a sensible line for the bar, rather than a total free-for-all. After some committed jostling my chef friend and I retrieved a round sickeningly sweet off-brand spritzes, which we thoroughly enjoyed outside on the terrace watching the tumult within.

We had a reservation elsewhere that night. But it testifies to the awesome appeal of Brasserie Georges - the magnetic force of its churning mass-capitalistic dreamscape - that my friend made sure to return there for a solo meal the following night before his train back to Paris.

Brasserie Georges
30 Cours de Verdun Perrache
69002 LYON
Tel: 04 72 56 54 54

Related Links:

Brasserie Georges recently held a sale of its dishware. Had I been in the neighborhood, I'd have been tempted.

A 2016 piece by De Lyon en Large featuring interesting facts about the Brasserie Georges. They helpfully point out the swastikas figuring in the floor tiling predate the symbol's appropriation by Hitler.

More Lyon:

Le Fleurie, 69007

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