Tortoni was the café where the crème de la crème of Parisian society would meet in the nineteenth century. These elegant Parisians, who soon came to be referred to as ‘dandys’ [sic] (a nod to London fashion) or more locally ‘tortonistes’, would gather at the corner of the rue Taitbout and the boulevard des Italiens.
“These young men, eager to be stylish, strove to imitate, in manner if not in dress, Beau Brummell and the Count of Orsay, the undisputed bearers of the “sceptre of fashion”.
Honoré de Balzac described the Tortoni in La Comédie du diable, and in Marcel Proust’s Un Amour de Swann, the eponymous hero goes there twice in the hope of meeting his beloved Odette.
“Swann made Rémi drive him to such restaurants as were still open; it was the sole hypothesis, now, of that happiness which he had contemplated so calmly; he no longer concealed his agitation, the price he set upon their meeting.[…] He pursued the quest as far as the Maison Dorée, burst twice into Tortoni’s and, still without catching sight of her, was emerging from the Café Anglais, striding with haggard gaze towards his carriage, which was waiting for him at the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens, when he collided with a person coming in the opposite direction; it was Odette…
The “famous duellist” the Marquis du Hallay; the poet Alfred de Musset, whose La Nuit vénitienne (1929) was published by Devambez; the writer Eugène Sue; Lord Henry Seymour; and Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, author of Du dandysme et de George Brummell, were all regular visitors to the café.
An illustration published by Devambez featuring two young lions seated outside Tortoni’s provides an insight into the atmosphere of the period.
Jacques Boulenger, Le Chic et les Dandys, Paris, Devambez, 1909