Le Train Bleu is the legendary gastronomic restaurant located in the heart of the Gare de Lyon, Place Louis Armand, in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. Built under the direction of architect Marius Toudoire for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, it was inaugurated the following year by French President Emile Loubet, under the name “Buffet de la Gare de Lyon”. In 1963, the establishment was renamed “Le Train Bleu”, in homage to the express night train that runs along the Mediterranean to serve the towns of the Côte d’Azur. Since 1972, its rooms and salons, adorned with sculptures, gilding and moldings, have been listed as historic monuments. In this article, we’ll retrace the history of this iconic brewery, while taking a look at the decorative elements created by the greatest painters of the time.
The history of the Gare de Lyon buffet
Paris, end of the 19th century: embellishment work begins on the new Gare de Lyon for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. The reconstruction of the old station has enabled the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée) railway company to confirm its position as a leader in southbound rail traffic. To reinforce its reputation, the management also wants to build a prestigious buffet. The work was entrusted to Marius Toudoire, the architect responsible for the Tour-Horloge and the new façade of the Gare de Lyon. The Parisian site, which is attracting increasing numbers of tourists, now boasts a belfry and a monumental façade, adorned with sculptures and coats of arms representing the cities it serves. The station’s buffet, a simple transit point for passengers between trains, benefits from this embellishment. Its painted and sculpted decorations are an invitation to travel, covering almost 700 m². Paintings and frescoes evoke a postcard of prosperous pre-war France, with its historic monuments and diverse landscapes. This invitation to travel was aimed at the high society of the Belle Époque, who were experimenting with rail tourism. Initially, the Gare de Lyon buffet was to be inaugurated for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, but we had to wait until April 7, 1901 to discover this neo-classical masterpiece worthy of a museum.
Le Train Bleu sets
The interior of Le Train Bleu is divided into several areas. The main hall, known as the “Rejane Hall”, is almost 26 meters long, while the Golden Hall, named after the stucco on its walls, is over 18 meters long. On the left are the Tunisian and Algerian lounges, characterized by their decoration based on geometric motifs and oriental landscapes. All ceilings are fully painted, carved or gilded. The 40 decorations painted on canvas to the glory of the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée) were created by renowned artists. These include landscapes and towns served by the rail network, such as the Orange theater, painted on the south wall of the main hall. The restaurant’s furniture is solid mahogany, and gilded bronze chandeliers adorn the ornate ceilings. At the time, members of the PLM board of directors didn’t hesitate to show off around celebrities such as actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Réjane, and writer Edmond Rostand. During the Second World War, the station’s buffet was requisitioned by the Germans, before being handed over to the SNCF in 1945. In 1963, the restaurant fell into disuse and was taken over by Albert Chazal, a restaurateur who began renovation work. The buffet at Gare de Lyon was renamed “Le Train Bleu”, in honor of the legendary Paris-Ventimiglia night train bound for the French Riviera. In 1972, the Salon doré, the Grand Salle, the Tunisian and Algerian salons, and the passageways with their decorative elements were classified as historic monuments by André Malraux.
The restaurant’s main works
Several works of art decorate the walls and ceilings of the famous gourmet restaurant. In the main room, three paintings represent France’s three largest cities: Paris, with a work by François Flameng (1856-1923), Lyon with a painting by Guillaume Dubufe (1853-1909) and Marseille painted by Gaston Casimir Saint-Pierre (1833-1916). The main painting in this room was by Albert Maignan. It depicts the Orange theater, where several portraits of railway personalities of the time are present, such as Stéphane-Adolphe Dervillé, president of the Compagnie de Chemin du Fer Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée. In all, some thirty of the best painters of the day created the sets for Le Train Bleu. A mural by René Billotte (1846-1914) adorns the staircase ceiling, while the Salle Dorée features works by Henri Gervex (1852-1929) and Jean-Baptiste Olive (1848-1936), an artist renowned for his marine paintings.
The Train Bleu, stars and cinema
A true gem of Belle Époque architecture, the Train Bleu has welcomed many a celebrity to its tables: Brigitte Bardot, Sarah Bernhardt, Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Salvador Dalí, Jean Gabin, François Mitterrand and Marcel Pagnol were regulars at this gourmet restaurant. The legendary Parisian brasserie has also been a source of inspiration for many directors, who have often used it as a set. In 1990, Luc Besson filmed “Nikita” here, alongside Anne Parillaud. Le Train Bleu was also used as a set in 1998 for Nicole Garcia’s film “Place Vendôme”, and in 2005 for the film “Anthony Zimmer” starring Sophie Marceau. A sequence from the film “Mister Bean’s Holiday” starring British actor Rowan Atkinson was also filmed in the salons of Le Train Bleu in 2007.
Traditional cuisine and French-style service
With its 250-cover capacity, the gastronomic show is not just on the plates. The restaurant offers fast, distinguished service in the French tradition, like a true ceremony. The meat is cut, the cut selected and the flambéing done before the astonished eyes of the guests by a brigade of maîtres d’hôtels who have come to sublimate the chef’s cuisine. Since 2018, the restaurant has been collaborating with Maison Rostang, which has co-signed a new gourmet menu and new dishes, in the tradition of the station buffet. Michelin-starred chef Michel Rostang aims to offer a cuisine influenced by seasonal and regional produce, emblematic of the historic PLM (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée) line. A genuine gratin dauphinois without cheese or eggs is the perfect accompaniment to the famous roast leg of lamb, the must-try dish on the Train Bleu. Other local specialities include the emblematic Baba au Rhum or Tartare prepared before your very eyes. The Gare de Lyon restaurant has seen a succession of chefs: Jean Thauvin (1963-1992), Michel Comby (1992-2000), André Signoret (2000-2004), Jean-Pierre Hocquet (2004-2019). Samir Balia, who has worked in the kitchens of the Royal Monceau hotel, is the restaurant’s new chef since 2019.
Le Train Bleu: practical information
The Train Bleu restaurant is open every day of the year, from 11.15am to 2.30pm and from 7pm to 10.30pm. In addition to its 2 large dining rooms, the establishment also offers a takeaway service, as well as a bar area (the Lounge bar, open from 7.30am to 10.30pm non-stop) comprising several small lounges with luxurious decor. Wine list, gift card, menu, reviews, reservations… find all the information you need to prepare your culinary visit on the www.le-train-bleu.com/fr/ website.
Enjoy your meal!