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Future Trois Mailletz Owner, Jacques Boni, Enters the Bar Business during French Student Revolts (Part 2)

Updated on April 9, 2016

Trois Mailletz Past Days

Owner Jacques Boni (back row, second from the left) and famous trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and fellow Trio Mailletz players (1990)
Owner Jacques Boni (back row, second from the left) and famous trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and fellow Trio Mailletz players (1990)
Trois Mailletz building on Rue Galande in the Latin Quarter of Paris before being  rebuilt in 1950
Trois Mailletz building on Rue Galande in the Latin Quarter of Paris before being rebuilt in 1950 | Source
Owner Jacques Boni in the entrance to the Trois Mailletz cave in recent years
Owner Jacques Boni in the entrance to the Trois Mailletz cave in recent years

During his younger days, Jacques Boni never dreamed of taking over the Trois Mailletz brand. Owning a legendary cabaret in a renowned district in Paris was far from his mind when he studied law and political science at the University of Paris-Assas in the late 1960s.

Being a lawyer might have been Jacques’ destiny if his family hadn’t hit a rough patch during his university days. His father Luigi went bankrupt, and Jacques was forced into working to make money to finance his studies. At age 28, Jacques opened a small bar in the Latin Quarter in Paris called Polly Maggoo. The timing of Jacques' entry into the bar business coincided with the extraordinary student revolutionary days of the late 1960s, which I will describe briefly here.

"May 68" is the term given to this period when student demonstrations and occupation protests led to nationwide strikes and almost the ouster of residing president Charles de Gaulle. The major student protests were played out in the Latin Quarter during this time, and it reached an apex on May 10, 1968 – when 20,000 students clashed with police, resulting in clouds of tear gas, Molotov cocktails, exploding automobile gas tanks, cobblestones hurled at the police, students chased down and beaten, and hundreds injured but fortunately no gunfire – and no deaths.

The student protests initially were peaceful and focused on educational reforms and student rights (including the right to have visitors of the opposite sex in dorms!). But labor unions and workers in general joined the movement, and it escalated into being about revolutionary social change with 11 million workers striking (22% of the total population of France at the time) for two continuous weeks. In the end, De Gaulle's call for new parliamentary elections appeased the protestors and violence disappeared almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, and De Gaulle and his Gaullist party emerged better than ever during the promised elections that were held. Despite the anti-climactic ending, May 1968 is considered the cultural, social and moral turning point in the modern history of France.

It was against this backdrop that Jacques opened his first bar named Polly Magoo, named after French film, “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?”, which spoofed the fashion world and its excesses.

“Polly Magoo (the bar) was a ‘phénomène socialsi’ (social phenomenon),” Jacques says. “If you wanted to make a revolution, you came there. Sometimes 300 people would try to squeeze into a bar that held 90. It became popular overnight. It was unexplainable.” Jacques’ blueish eyes sparkle when he speaks of Polly Magoo. “It was the first ‘pop art bar’ with posters on wall. Nobody had done that before. It was a true meeting place for the ‘scintiller’ (sparkling) people”. People across all of Paris travelled to come here.”

Among those who frequented Polly Magoo was Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and Abbe Pierre, an inspirational French humanitarian, who owned a bar next to Polly Magoo. Several movie premiers, trumpeted in the famous Parisian newspaper Le Figaro, were held at Polly Magoo. “It was a rendezvous place for intellectual men and women from all countries“, Jacques says. “I wanted to be an intellectual, I wanted to be a writer,” and he mingled with such people.

However, to Jacques chagrin, Polly Magoo had a short three-year run (1967-1969) as its popularity quickly waned. “Bad neighbors and pickpockets”, Jacques explains. Such bad elements began frequenting the establishment on Rue St. Jacques and its surrounding area and business dried up. Jacques says the police did nothing to stop the degradation of the neighborhood and claims the police might have actually hasten the bar’s demise by dropping off undesirables near Polly Magoo, who disrupted the bar’s previous good vibe and scared away good-intentioned customers.

Jacques then cut his teeth as a show director at the nearby Caveau de la Bolée in Saint-Michel district. Jacques’ first role at Caveau de la Bolée was generally as a booking agent responsible for booking different bands (“It was boring,” Jacques says). Then he hired different singers, comedians and magicians, and the place developed into a cabaret variety show. “It was a patchwork of music,” Jacques says. He hired singers from various parts of the world (e.g. Serbia, Russia) and experimented by having them sing in turn and then together, which would form the basis of his “world music” concept that he later perfected at Trois Mailletz.

To be continued: Part 3 – Trois Mailletz is Reborn

_______

"At age 28, Jacques opened a bar in the Latin Quarter that coincided with the extraordinary student revolutionary days of the late 1960s in Paris."

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