Alain Fontaine leans on the bar at his central Paris bistro, Le Mesturet, dodging trays as waiters weave around him to deliver lunchtime service. “A bistro isn’t just some place for a quick bite to eat,” he says, turning to avoid a glass of red wine colliding with his white chef’s coat. “It’s the home of the Parisian art de vivre—that’s what we’re losing if these places die out: our way of life.
”A distinctive kind of bar-cum-eatery, the bistro offers more substantial meals than a café, but in a more relaxed setting than a restaurant. In some parts of town, they seem to be everywhere, the small zinc-topped tables of their terraces spilling onto street corners. But they’re rapidly disappearing. From 2014 to 2018, nearly a quarter of Paris bistros—at least 300 of them—closed, according to France’s National Statistics Office.
That’s why Fontaine, 60, who worked in bistros all his life before opening Le Mesturet in 2003, is leading about 30 fellow owners in a campaign this year. They want UNESCO, the U.N.’s culture agency, to give bistros and terraces “intangible cultural heritage” status. In September, they will hand their proposal to France’s Minister for Culture, who will then decide whether or not to recommend it to UNESCO. The status would raise awareness and give owners an opportunity for promotion, as well as a way to justify future planning protection from the city council. They might also be able to access some funds: every two years UNESCO hands out cash from a shared pot to put toward practices or events with the classification [ . . . ]