Chez Paulette Coffee House
By Nigel Watson
“The old coffee shops have long gone and are only preserved on film, whilst this Chez Paulette is a stirring of memory in the coffee cup of existence.”
Alongside Plymouth International Book Festival 2015, the Chez Paulette Coffee House has been constructed in Plymouth University’s Roland Lewinsky Building as a working coffee shop, meeting place and an art installation in its own right. It first appeared here two years ago, so it is almost like a time machine that has suddenly popped up again to dispense coffee and nostalgia.
Sarah Yardley, Andrew Meredith and Jamie Morrison
Chez Paulette is the cultural equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife in that it works on several functional and artistic levels. Along with the fresh coffee you can enjoy poetry, music and readings – indeed if you bring along your own guitar you would get a free coffee! Here you can literally drink in the Italian coffee whilst enjoying the French ambiance decorated by posters of Spanish bullfights and US film stars. Besides this mix of cultures, the ‘shop’ itself is based on a real shop run in the 1950s by the father of Plymouth University lecturer Anya Lewin. She commissioned this artwork as a film set replica to reference the fact that there was a reproduction of the Chez Paulette used in the US detective TV series 77 Sunset Strip (1958 to 1964).
As an art installation it echoes both its previous existence in 77 Sunset Strip and the original coffee shop reality, reflecting the perceived sophistication of European culture mixed with the glamour of the Hollywood stars who frequented its four walls. Although it is built like a film set, there are no cameras or lighting rigs here. It is a blank stage where you become the actor and you live out your own script, but unlike the film set you can actually enjoy a real coffee here!
This mixture of origins, purposes and references asks us to ponder the nature of reality as we sip our coffee and contemplate the posters and photographs of the original Chez Paulette. The old coffee shops have long gone and are only preserved on film, whilst this Chez Paulette is a stirring of memory in the coffee cup of existence. We are inspired to consider that in the long run most human structures and cultures are fleeting conceits, and that we should at least take time to sit back and smell the coffee.