The original Paris supper club
Discover new aspects to Paris by eating and meeting with locals. (Jean-Bernard Carillet/LPI)
Jim Haynes has a CV that just will not quit: a Louisianan raised in Venezuela, who did his US military service in Edinburgh, started a theatre in London’s Covent Garden and spent 30 years teaching sexual politics (in English) at university in Paris, where he hung out with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and James Baldwin.
But he is best known for the Sunday night dinners chez Jim (01-43-27-1767; www.jim-haynes.com) in a belle époque atelier in the 14e. It is the original Paris supper club, where people meet, greet, eat, drink and, well, do whatever people then do together - all for a suggested donation of 25 euros.
Q: How long has this been going on?
A: It all started in 1978. I've always had house guests - it's hard not to in places like Edinburgh, London and Paris - and I once put up a ballet dancer who liked to cook. She made dinner for me and my friends once or twice a week, which turned into a regular Sunday night event for everybody. And when Cathy couldn't cook we began to have guest chefs.
Q: So still crazy after all these years about entertaining?
A: People ask me all the time why I continue. I don't know. Inertia? I just think, well, it's Sunday. It's time to do dinner.
Q: Overnight sensation or slow boil?
A: The event grew organically from the beginning but right now we're full every week. I did an interview with NPR [National Public Radio] in the USA early in 2009 and then the mint-makers After Eight shot a TV advert here. That pushed the numbers way up. In good weather the crowd spills into garden and can go as high as 130 but I prefer between 60 to 70 people.
Q: It was standing-room-only crowd last night, a veritable club frotti/frotta.
A: About 130,000 people have passed through the front door and many romances leading to relationships, marriages and babies have started in this room. I watched a shy French gal and a timid German guy who could barely communicate sit on that sofa one Sunday night. They've now been married for 18 years and have three kids. And they speak three languages fluently!
Q: Has travel - have travellers - changed since you fed your first?
A: People haven't changed. I think there will always be two basic ways to travel: to go around the world and see things as a tourist or to participate in local life as a traveller. Why do people like one city and dislike another? They got involved with locals in some way in the first and not the second. All the people who come to my dinners are travellers as they are getting involved - even if they don't always know it.
Q: What keeps you glued to the spot?
A: I love all big cities but particularly Paris because it's a small big city. Each arrondissement is like a little town; I rarely leave mine as I've got everything I need here. And I'm a real local now; everyone calls me Mr Jim. It's endearing.
Q: Words of wisdom for the Paris virgins out there?
A: Talk to people - even it just involves a 'Pass the salt, please' directed at the next table. A lot of friendships have started that way. But bear in mind one rule among the Parisians: never, ever, start a conversation without saying 'Bonjour' first. Ignore that and you'll be dismissed as impolite. In fact, you're a rude bastard.