Robinson Treehouse cafes offered Parisians a quick getaway to the countryside. With great food, local wine and exhilarating activities, visitors played among the trees of Le Plessis-Piquet. The colony began in 1848 when Joseph Gueusquin had an idea to place his establishment above all earthbound competition. Drawing inspiration from popular books Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and The Swiss Family Robinson by. J.D. Wyss, he relocated his open-air cabaret skyward, into the branches of an enormous chestnut tree.
Dubbed Au Grand Robinson, Gueusquin’s cafe among the leaves was an instant success. Unfortunately for him, competitors soon created their own Robinson Treehouse Cafés along the rue de Malabry, propelling the sleepy village into a must-see destination. Tree swings, donkey races, and meals in baskets hoisted up trees on ropes all added to the good times.
The Party Was Relocated In The Treetops
Open-air cabarets were popular escapes throughout the countryside surrounding Paris. These guinguettes were named after guinguet, a popular tart white wine of the region. Some guinguettes became famously risqué hotspots like La Grenouillére (Frog Pond, 1850-1930). situated on a small island on the Seine that attracted artists including Monet and Renoir.
From the mid-1800s, better transportation opened new playgrounds including sea resorts and coastal amusement parks to attract residents from increasingly crowded cities. The railway from Paris to Sceaux opened in 1846. Improvements through the 1850s made the trip an easy day jaunt. From the train station, revelers could walk to the enclave of Robinson treehouse cafes or hire a carriage or donkeys.
As these outer villages became more popular, proprietors of cabarets and taverns competed fiercely with other towns for city revelers. Plessis had an edge thanks to its Robinson Treehouse Cafes. According to the city site of Le Plessis:
“Restaurants, bars, dance halls, merry-go-rounds, donkey races and other attractions make the heyday of this new district, which took the name of the establishment at the origin of its development. Offering an alternative to the joys of canoeing on the banks of the Seine or the Marne, the guinguettes de Robinson drew their originality from this unusual forest setting, which encouraged walkers to rediscover their child’s soul and dream of exotic adventures.”
Le Plessis began as a small village in Ile-de-France. Guesquin’s Robinson treehouse cafes and his competition changed their town for the better.
“The creation of the first guinguettes in the middle of the 19th century quickly brought the village into modernity. Robinson then became a fashionable place attracting a crowd of Parisians on the go.”
Eventually, Gueusquin most likely saw that the area was drawing volumes of visitors with His Robinson Treehouse Cafes. In 1849, he published a Guide for walkers in the countryside of Sceaux, the woods of Aunay, Plessis-Picquet, Fontenay-aux-Roses… with a map indicating exactly all the paths. He writes:
“What do these cries of joy, these perhaps bacchanalian songs, these bursts of the cornet à piston announce to us? That we are approaching the borders of Robinson, a pleasure hamlet whose cottages, chalets and a few barracks are grouped together in the middle of the sands, in the shade of old chestnut trees. There we dance, we roll on the grass, we swing freely, and if we want more, the bush of Verrières has many attractions.
While providing a useful guide for visitors seeking a good time, he was the master spin doctor, weaving promotional bits throughout.
“Robinson‘s Trees have become so many dining rooms; where once only the volatile people perched, tables have been set up, real society cabinets, where, fork in hand, featherless lovebirds content themselves with sweets by giving each other kisses of which zephyr and leafy are the only ones confidants. The danger of losing balance could be a guarantee of temperance, and relying on too steep stairs, one could fear vertigo; no matter, you would have to be not a Parisian not to want to have, at least once in your life, a dinner at the pulley on the giant chestnut tree; unfortunately, there is not always room for everyone.”
The Treehouse Legend Continued
Comic operetta L’Arbre de Robinson became an audience favorite in 1857. It tells the story of a married couple, each cheating on the other, whose deception unravels when they run into each other at the Robinson treehouse cafes.
Plessis-Picquet was officially renamed Plessis-Robinson in 1909. By the 1930s the Robinson Treehouse Cafes had lost their glimmer.
Today, Le Plessis-Robinson is a thriving, environmentally sustainable city. It deserves a spot on your must-see list.
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