A city that's gone for dogs

SUN JOURNAL

Paris: At the Cafe le Bouledogue Brasserie, the bulldogs are part of the ambience.

March 26, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PARIS - At the restaurant and bar on rue Rambuteau in the heart of the city, the beef - Charolais, perhaps the best in a country known for some of the world's best food - is a prime attraction.

But for years now, people have been trotting into the establishment as much because of the dogs there as for the food.

It's called the Cafe le Bouledogue Brasserie, a place where dogs are not only tolerated but welcomed, a restaurant and bar owned by Didier Delor and his partner, Jean-Pierre Rubine, but which is run, in a way, by their two French bulldogs, Titi and Nelson.

On a busy day, 15 or so "Frenchies," as the breed is known, will be in the cafe at once. Their owners are attracted to the place for the love of good food, certainly, but just as much by the opportunity to while away the time with similar-minded dog owners and, probably more to the point, with the dogs themselves.

"It's very strange," said Delor as he waited for the inevitable evening rush of customers. "Owners of bulldogs like to get together and talk. If they see each other on the street, they'll stop whatever they're doing."

Paris is the "City of Love," of course, and that extends to the dogs here, which tend to be pampered like newborn babies and seem as omnipresent as sidewalk crepe carts.

At the Cafe le Bouledogue, Titi and Nelson greet new arrivals by waddling over, looking up at them with eyes like French chocolates and then either collapsing at their feet for yet another nap or waddling back to their usual position by the kitchen door, to dog-dream about waiters with slippery hands. For these two, anything that's dropped is the special of the day.

Delor ticked off some of the names of his regulars: "Churchill, Marseille, Maurice, Hitchcock. ... They tend to have human names, I think, because they have such expressive faces."

And the names of their human owners?

"I don't know. The masters don't interest me at all," he said.

He opened the brasserie eight years ago, in tribute to his first French bulldog, Elliott, whose tragic end a year after the first food was served will not be detailed here, other than to say it involved bathing in the Seine - there is a dedicated dog bathing area in the river - and a current too strong for his stunted legs.

Unlike Titi and Nelson, who Delor joked have a snobbish affection for Chateau Margaux, Elliott enjoyed a good snort of the hard stuff.

Businesses here work hard to dig into the pocketbooks of the owners of the estimated 8 million French pets. At the Hotel Palais de Versaille, dogs are entitled to their own beds. And no need to fetch here: They can order, presumably through their masters, from their own room-service menu.

The Four Seasons-George V Hotel and the Hotel Meurice, both five-star accommodations in the people department, have also upgraded their pet services, providing rubber mice and bones, as well as blankets embroidered with dog names.

At the Hotel Lancaster, a five-star hotel a few fire hydrants down from the presidential palace, a faux ostrich-skin designer dog bed can be ordered for the bargain price of $112 a night. (The bed for guests goes for $730 a night.)

"The whole world is dog crazy," said Helen Playne, a spokeswoman for the Lancaster. "I have to say that I think only the French would do luxury dog beds, though."

At the Cafe le Bouledogue, truth be told, Titi and Nelson are not so pampered. French bulldogs will eat pretty much whatever is put in front of them, so their diet is monitored so they don't begin to resemble, even more, potbellied pigs.

Their dinner, save for the occasional clumsy waiter or the rare patron who can't resist feeding them under the table, is dry dog food, as the rest of the world's canines know it.

Which has not diminished their celebrity. The dogs have appeared in the weekly magazine supplement to Le Figaro and modeled ties in Monsieur. Artists have sketched and painted them - one using coffee for coloring - and the writer Patricia Cornwall has made a point of stopping in, specifically to see Titi, Nelson and whatever of their buddies might be there.

Delor likes to think the success of his business goes beyond the dogs.

"I think the quality of the food must count," he said as the dogs snoozed by the kitchen door. "The dogs are good for business, on the other hand. They bring in extra people, and the numbers aren't negligible."

The first customers of the night just then walked through the doors. Titi and Nelson dutifully approached, sniffed their shoes, accepted a few scratches behind their bat-like ears and moved back to their spot.

"They are hard workers, you can see," Delor said.

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