Remembering the Café du Soleil

For its summer concert on 16 July, the Monegasque Red Cross is hosting a cocktail party on the Terrasses du Soleil: a space with a rich history and wonderful memories.

En 1939, Lord et Lady Plender en compagnie de Lord et Lady Illingworth.

Of course there is Place du Casino, which can be transformed into an open-air concert venue and boasts the legendary Café and Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. But the other side of Monaco’s temple of gaming features a terrace with a breathtaking 360° panoramic view of the Mediterranean. Spending a few hours here is delightful. At one time, members of the upper classes would flock to this terrace to bask in the sunshine at the Café du Soleil, after trying their luck at French roulette. The story began in 1878, the year in which the Opéra de Monte-Carlo was built at the behest of Marie Blanc and the architect Charles Garnier. Garnier suggested they enhance the terrace by creating a café there. Work began and was eventually completed, but Marie Blanc changed her mind and the project was abandoned. This was the Belle Epoque, and it was probably too early to open a café at a time when the Riviera was primarily a winter resort. But in the Roaring Twenties it became a fashionable summer destination, and when the Café du Soleil finally opened in 1932, it was an instant success. Photos from the archives of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer show gentlemen smoking cigars and elegant women with parasols strolling along the terrace, having come here for a healthy break. There were stars such as the superb Alice Nikitina, one of the principal dancers of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and notable luminaries having coffee with their wives, including American playwright Sidney Howard, British actor Owen Nares, and aristocrats Lord Plender and Lord Illingworth.

Orson Welles, profitant de cette vue époustouflante en 1952.

A view of the Mediterranean
In the wake of the Second World War and the gloomy years that followed, the Café du Soleil reopened thanks to Henry Astric, who was the resort’s artistic director for 25 years. The American filmmaker Orson Welles would come here to relax, enjoy a drink and take in the stunning view, while musicians would celebrate the warm weather with their instruments. But this period ended in 1960, when the café closed for a second time. It was not until 1993 that the enchanting venue was revived, this time as the Bar du Soleil. Its final iteration would last a decade, during which it underwent a series of improvements, with the addition of duckboards, umbrellas, a gazebo-style cover and trendy new furniture. Although it closed definitively in 2003 during the renovation of the Opéra, its spirit lives on every time a passer-by walks by the Terrasses du Soleil and stops to gaze at the immensity of the sea.

l’immensité de la mer.

En 1938, l’élégante danseuse Alicia Nikitina, en promenade avec son chien.