I have been going to L’ami Louis for 30 years. I first went there for dinner and I wasn’t sure where I was, it seemed like a crummy place, though I could figure it out quickly enough, shabby chic spot.
So what is the fascination about the restaurant? Is it the garlic, large portions, or the French class savoir-faire. The waiters dressed in white jackets, I hate white jackets but it works there and the waiters are top professionals at chez Ami Louis.
The original Louis owned the restaurant and before he passed away, he made an arrangement with one of his longstanding clients, a fan of the restaurant. It was purchased passed on a French law, “viager” or a life annuity. The property is sold on the basis of an initial down-payment (termed the bouquet) averaging approximately 30% of the property market value.
On top of this, the vendor is paid a monthly annuity or pension (called the rente viagère) for the duration of their lives and in return, the vendor retains a lien or droit d’usage (rights of usage) over the property.
The restaurant seems frozen in time, the feeling of eating in a cross between a seedy bordello and a gun slinging saloon. This is a place that seems staged, where nothing matters as much as the food and service. The rich and famous congregate there, plastic faces and chests are bulging everywhere, people go there to see, and to be seen, and consequently they are filled up most evenings.
Working 5 days a week makes it a difficult table and when I called last month, Louis said, “Mr. X you know the rules” so I was obliged to call back at a later date for my table – I was a regular there for years and often went very late (23h00) after the crowds were all gone.
Getting a table there is complex for a number of reasons but unless you are used to their system, you could feel anxiety eating there. On top of it, if you don’t eat garlic or foie gras or plenty of butter, forget it!