‘We’re Ready To Bounce Back’: We Visit First Paris Cafe to Reopen After Terror Attacks

VICE News talked to regulars and staff at À la Bonne Bière on Friday morning as it became the first Parisian venue targeted in last month's terror attacks to reopen.
December 4, 2015, 12:55pm
En terrasse du café À la bonne bière Etienne Rouillon / VICE News

One sugar lump, then another one. This man loves his coffee sweet. And he usually likes to drink it in peace. But that won't be possible this morning.

A few meters from him, behind a fence made of flowers, written tributes and candles, journalists are assembled en masse to film this customer of the "À la Bonne Bière" bar ("To the good beer"). It is on this terrace in the 10th district of Paris that five people died, three weeks ago to the day.

At around 8am Friday morning, the bar became the first place targeted in the November 13 terror attacks to reopen. Two employees tell VICE News that the first clients of the morning are regular customers. People living or working in the neighborhood. Everybody tells us the significance of "being here this first morning."

The front window of the cafe has been changed to remove the bullet holes (Étienne Rouillon /VICE News)

Customers at the bar (Étienne Rouillon/VICE News)

"Yeah, no worries, take pictures, you know, I live here. We are used to seeing you, over the last three weeks, the journalists," says a man in his early forties, leaning his elbow on the packed bar. An hour after the reopening, there are about thirty customers, matched by as many journalists. The mood is quite strange, everyone plays their role, like it is any other morning. But the croissants do taste exceptional.

Customers tell journalists why they've come, while the co-manager, 37-year old Audrey Bily, gives an impromptu press conference summing up the sentiments of a note clearly visible on the menu board at the entrance of the bar. The first words are dedicated to the five victims and their relatives. Then there are thanks addressed to the rescue and police teams, and to the local residents who supported the place on its way to reopening. "I came every morning to offer support," said a young blond-haired woman putting her coffee cup down on the bar table.

The journalists in front of the bar. (Étienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The bar. (Étienne Rouillon/VICE News)

It has been two years since Bily and her co-manager took over the cafe, which is usually open from 6am to 2am. But the place dates back to just after World War Two. "It is a pleasure to see the regular customers again," she said.

Visibly moved, she talks about the construction work needed to "erase the stigmata of this nightmare." Walls have been painted again, bullet-pierced windows have been changed. A team from the Paris city council came to help move flowers and objects left in tribute to create a new memorial a few meters away from the cafe entrance.  "We felt ready today", said Bily. "We are going to revive this neighborhood. We are going to start again, to bounce back."

Above the cafe, a banner has been installed, reading "Je suis en terrasse" ("I am on the terrace") and surrounded by sketches of the Eiffel Tower portrayed as a peace symbol. This phrase went viral after the attacks, mostly the Friday that came after, encouraging people to get back to cafes and bars. The area around À la Bonne Bière was deeply affected by two of the November 13 attacks. The Bataclan concert hall is a few blocks from here. The attackers known as "The terrace commando" opened fire on several cafes and restaurants including this one.

The cafe staff faces the journalists. (Étienne Rouillon/VICE News)

A few meters from the cafe is the pizzeria Casa Nostra (Étienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The other places that were targeted are not set to reopen before the beginning of next year. The Bataclan owners have talked of reopening but not before the end of 2016.

It is now 9am. The man with the sweet coffee puts his cup down. Journalists sit at his table. In front of them, a man mourns in front of the pizzeria Casa Nostra, another place where diners lost their lives.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter : @PLongeray

Follow Étienne Rouillon on Twitter @rouillonetienne