The classic bistro table is chic and flexible. They seem like they have always existed and work with everything. Ubiquitous as they are now, how did they get woven into our notion of Parisian life? We decided to look at bistro history, where these easy-going beauties got their start, then delve into our favorite uses for them.
Paris's first bistro was Café Procope in the late 1600s. They set themselves apart from the endless taverns by hanging paintings and using, you guessed it, small marble-topped tables. Early in the 1800s many cafés started to serve customers on their terraces. The people-watching that naturally followed helped to fuel a booming fashion industry. Then came the Belle Epoche, the era captured in so many lush advertisements and illustrations by Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse Lautrec. Taking coffee outside had become ingrained into French culture.
In 1889 the Eiffel Tower was completed and its industrial style ushered in the use of the metal folding chair. These chairs became emblematic of bistros and diners and are still popular today.
Forged iron bases became standard, usually with decorative scrolls and sometimes painted in fabulous colors. By the mid 20th century the rising popularity of soda and fast food pushed many bistros to shift their focus from coffee to meals, sometimes necessitating bigger tables. Many of these are suitable for modern dinner tables.
There is a pretty broad variety in styles of bistro tables. Small gueridon tables originally designed for one or two people sipping coffee make excellent occasional tables. They often have forged iron pedestal bases and round metal or marble tops.
The aforementioned larger tables are constructed with matching sets of iron legs, with scrolls or foliate details, often joined by X-stretchers or metal rods. These are typically topped with simple marble slabs, but sometimes you find painted wood, concrete or even glazed stone. As was their original purpose, many of their constituent materials allow for use inside and out. You can take your morning coffee on the patio, or employ them in a garden setting.
They are certainly appropriate in a variety of settings, being dressed up or down, as it were. A simple frame and basic top can be elevated by using more formal upholstered chairs and a grand centerpiece or lighting. That same table will have a completely different feel with a rustic bench or the classic slatted metal folding chairs. One thing that all bistro tables tend to have in common is their open, airy look, making them ideal for small spaces. They will also work wonderfully as desks or consoles.
Because bistro tables generally have no apron, people of all sizes can sit comfortable at the table whether it is being used as a snack/coffee table, a dining table, or a desk! This kind of adaptability is just part of what makes the bistro table so special. Hopefully we have inspired you to consider integrating a bistro table into your home!