Fr Cn De Es Pt It

V - Le Relais de la Butte


Painting by Jean-Marc Guéroux

Elisa ordered a pretty bad café au lait for euros 3.70 and an even less appetising croissant for euros 2.10. The flippant waiter pointed out that she had woken up too late for breakfast. How could anyone live a refined lifestyle without being able to have breakfast at one’s convenience? When she heard the waiter ask the barman to take the baguettes out of the freezer, it seemed like the final straw. She knew that this place – which dishonoured the national baguette – would make it to her black list. With its 70s hippie-style decoration, torn banquettes and orange-yellow walls, you would have expected homemade bread with freshly ground organic seeds in it...

Yet, from the worn interior, a step with a few missing tiles led to a terrace with a view that restored your faith in the establishment itself and the world at large. Located just above the Place Emile Goudeau, where Picasso had painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in his atelier at the Bateau Lavoir, the Relais boasts a privileged spot that makes up for the bad mood of the waiter and the lack of breakfast for late risers.

This is also where Elisa had decided to fall in love with her squatter, simply because it was the most improbable thing to do and because it would give a twist to the scenario of her life.

The décor of the bar went well with the studio that Elisa had purchased without realising that it would come with a man in it. The studio was falling apart, but decorated with fuchsia pink and orange, her favourite colour combination, with an oriental style that reminded of trips to Kathmandu.

She accepted the hookah that the squatter offered her and smoked some apple tobacco with him. It was only later, when she started vomiting, that he remembered that he had smoked some weed in the same hookah and that some may have been left behind...

It was also in this café that Elisa had eaten an ice cream with Vinni and Phil. When Phil saw that she was cold, he had lent her his jacket.

Today, sitting at the Bar du Relais, Elisa watched the people coming in to go to the toilets, which were by her table. The toilets won’t make it into my Best Toilets of the World Guide, she thought, as the fifth customer backed out after getting a good whiff.

“Three years of your life” would be the title of the guide that Elisa was compiling about the most beautiful public toilets in the world. It’s true: we spend an average of three years of our lives on the toilet. The decoration was thus crucial, in Elisa’s mind.

Like cumulative interest built up with financial investments, when added together, these short moments spent in the toilet had an importance that was often underestimated in people’s lives. Elisa’s theory was that most intestinal problems simply came from the horrible ambience of these rooms, generally stripped of all beauty.

She always took a camera with her when she went to the toilet in restaurants or public WCs. The most amazing was that of Sydney, on the sidewalk of a main street: it was made of glass with a mirror effect on the outside and transparent inside. You felt that you were sitting under a glass roof as pedestrians walked by unknowingly.

In Paris, Elisa preferred the toilets of Café Marly, in the courtyard of the Louvre, and those of the Ritz, where she had made love for the first time to her squatter – not in the toilets, but in a superb suite that she felt was the only place worthy of the occasion. She hadn’t made love for so long that nothing less than the Ritz could have sufficed…

Now, a handsome blonde man with scruffy hair sat down near Elisa to wait his turn at the toilet. This was followed by a dissertation by a young couple in love, the only other customers sitting in the bistro: was it more important to indulge a full bladder or one’s sense of hygiene?

Despite all of this, the Relais seemed to incite complicity, encounters and twists of fate.

While its interior design, croissants and service leave much to be desired, it’s still worth a visit. It’s a place that just might change your destiny. Elisa’s definitely took a few unexpected turns here.


* Since Elisa’s visit, the Relais de la Butte has been entirely revamped and its baguettes no longer come from the freezer.

Les studios de Paris
2-4, rue Androuet Paris - 75018