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Leafing through the history of the Bibent means going through the history of Toulouse for over a century and half. Even if his date of birth has remained controversial and mysterious for a long time; it is almost certain that Le Bibent has been present at number 5 of the Place du Capitole since 1843 (Archives de Toulouse), date of its creation by Jean-Catherine Bibent, who passed it on to her son Narcisse-Léon from 1870.
It is a wonderful brewery mixing baroque and art nouveau which opens its doors in 1861. The owners of the café brought in from Paris the representative of Loin, the owner of the patent for the compressed air machine system. This innovation was born at the Bibent and made the establishment the first of the Toulouse cafés to offer beer under pressure in 1861.
In the 1860s, the Place du Capitole offers an interesting, varied and lively aspect at any time of the day. During the morning, there is an important market : gardening, fruits, poultry, fish are sold there; in the afternoon and evening, it is the meeting of a still considerable crowd of walkers and strollers ; it is then the Palais-Royal and the Boulevard des Italiens from Toulouse.
It was on the terrace of the Bibent that Jean Jaurès himself, then a city councillor and deputy mayor, wrote his first articles for “La Dépêche”.
The Toulouse cinema has a very rich history, the first cinematographs invade the pink city, the American Cosmographe and Le Bibent screen every night art and essay films.
At the end of the first war, the American students landed in Toulouse and took their quarters to the faculty. The university newspaper "What is it?" was born in English and became the city guide for English-speaking students. The Bibent is regularly featured in the «Café Chats» culinary chronicles.
An impressive crowd of tens of thousands cheers General de Gaulle on Place du Capitole when he delivers his speech on the balcony of the Town Hall: " Toulouse, Toulouse libre, Toulouse fière, fière parce qu'elle est libre et fière parce qu'au milieu de toutes les larmes, de toutes les angoisses, de toutes les espérances qu‘elle a traversé, jamais Toulouse n'a cru que la France était perdue, jamais Toulouse n'a renoncé ni à la grandeur du pays, ni à sa victoire, ni à la liberté des hommes, ni à celle des Français et des Françaises...".
Bibent Thursdays animated the city until the late 1970s… At the forefront of innovation and progress, Bibent remained an essential part of Toulouse’s cultural and political life. With its decoration of stucco painted in Napoleon III style, the café Le Bibent was until the late 1970s a kind of Café de Flore du Midi.
At that time, on Bibent Thursdays, the finest of the Toulouse intelligentsia found itself. The painters Jean-Emile Jaurès, Carlos Pradal, Christian Schmidt, who was the first director of the Municipal Cultural Centre, Pierre Igon, Robert Thon, Kablat, his daughter Maryse, Georges Artémoff; the animators of the Toulouse cultural life, Michel Roquebert, Henry Lhong, who four years earlier had founded with Robert Aribaut and Charles-Pierre Bru the Salon «Art Présent». And again Denis Milhau, then curator of the Augustinian Museum, and many others.
Already in 1881, Jean Constans, deputy of the Haute-Garonne, then minister of the Interior, held a meeting there.
Closer to home, many remember Dominique Baudis’ election evenings and political staffs eagerly awaiting the results of the polls, barely a few dozen metres from the Capitol.
The Bibent, added to the additional inventory of Historical Monuments in 1975.
In the mid-1970s, the owner of the time, Émile Lapoujade, considered a complete renovation of the café with the aim of modernizing it. Farewell to the Second Empire decor, stucco, cariatides, garlands of flowers and grimacing masks… However, a strong local mobilization manages to save the work of the architect J-P Virebent thanks to a classification order to the additional inventory of Historical Monuments, dated October 29, 1975. However, a 1979 restoration destroyed the original color.
The café was expanded on three levels. Now a brewery, a new clientele replaced students and artists. Along with its soul, coffee gradually loses its appeal.
A new starry horizon
In 1999, Martine and Thierry Oldak bought the walls of the Bibent with the aim of returning the former splendour to the most famous brewery of the Place du Capitole. In 2009, the businessman was accompanied by Axel Letellier, a heritage architect, and Christian Constant, a Michelin-starred chef. During twelve months of work, the renovation carried out by the architectural agency and the decorator Béatrice Gayral has made it possible to find the original colors: green, red and gold. The Murano mirrors and chandeliers have been preserved, for a young respectful stroke both in terms of art and the spirit of the oldest of Toulouse cafés, and certainly one of the oldest in France.
The Bibent then finds its Belle Époque decor and reopens its doors in June 2011.
“It’s a return to the roots for me. I want to revive the Bibent. It’s a magical place, just like the Place du Capitole is in Toulouse… I will make a menu worked with local products, simple dishes, gourmet, quality and cheap, like veal head or cassoulet ! I want the people of Toulouse who want to go out and eat well to come back to Bibent”, said Christian Constant, at the helm of the brewery’s kitchens.
“Here, time slows down, we regain a taste for sharing, well-being, well-eating and well-drinking, meaning of Bibent en Occitan.”