Place de Clichy – population: every seedy male in France, and your teenage daughter.
We were a group of 7 at Le Wepler brasserie, a Parisian institution in the heart of the red light district.
Australia had just buried England in the rugby – always cause for celebration – and Wepler was the only place in the area that didn’t charge customers in 30-minute increments.
It’s a restaurant typical of a certain type of French hospitality experience: an expansive dining area with polished brass rails, old-school waiting staff in starched whites with black aprons, an out-of-order toilet and a resident mouse.
Here’s a review from TripAdvisor: “Typical Parisian brasserie with efficient waiters who are professional, fast and attentive. The dishes are good, well-served, at an acceptable price. 4-stars.” Despite TripAdvisor’s credibility issues, it was actually close to the mark.
Seafood is the specialty, the platters stacked with 3 types of oysters, crabs cleaved in half, and sea snails, which you entice out of the shells with a long narrow fork and then hide in mayonnaise to disguise the taste.
We’d polished off two platters between us, a bottle of champagne and a pouilly-fume, which was not bad considering it was midnight and all we’d been looking for was a light snack.
The professional, fast and attentive waiter, seeing us flagging in our efforts to shell and eat the last-remaining food – tiny shrimps not worth the pay-off – siddled up. Clearing the plates, scraps, broken shells and crumbs, he asked, rather optimistically, “Would we like dessert? Café?”
Feeling in a jocular mood, and wishing to maintain the spirit of sharing that had seen us polish off 300 euros worth of food and drink in 20 minutes, I decided to make a joke with the waiter.
There’s a scene in the cult 1990s French film ‘Le peril jeune’ (perils of youth) where five mischievous students in a café are asked by the waiter if they would like to order anything else (ie. If not, leave!).
“Un café avec cinq pailles,” one of them jokes, “one coffee with five straws”.
I thought the waiter would appreciate my knowledge of French cult film, so I boldly said:
“Yes, one café with 7 straws.”
While the idea was sound, the execution was less so. In effect, in my haste to get the joke out, I confused the word for straws – “pailles” – with blow jobs – “pipes”.
Now everyone was confused, not least the waiter, who nonetheless brought the café but mercifully not the sexual favour, which, as with the coffee, would have likely been better down the road.