It is the oldest cigar shop in Paris, perhaps in the world. It first opened its doors in 1716, and this year it is celebrating its 300th anniversary.
The name of the store is À La Civette, and you can find it at 157 rue Saint-Honoré. It's just across from the Louvre Museum as well as from the Palais-Royal—home these days to government offices, including the Ministry of Culture—and the Palais' beautiful gardens and fountain, in the heart of the City of Light's First Arrondissement, its prime tourist district.
Some details of the shop have been lost in time, including the actual month of its opening. "In 1716, it was a very little tobacco shop or perfume shop, we don't know, inside the Palais-Royal," says Dorothée Spriet Weisz, who has been owner and manager of À La Civette for the last 11 years and whose family has owned the shop for the last 20. "And the woman who owned À La Civette was crying. And the sister of the king entered the shop and said, ‘Why are you crying?' And the owner said, ‘I don't sell enough.' So the sister said all the royalty will buy from À La Civette. And that's the beginning of the story."
The shop moved at least four times in its first century and a half, "but always near the same corner," Spriet Weisz said. It has been at No. 157 since 1876—140 years.
Many famous folk visited À La Civette in the 18th century, among them the renowned Italian adventurer and lover Giacomo Casanova, who was taken there by a Parisian friend. Other well-known customers in that century included Benjamin Franklin and the French writers and philosophers Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The artists Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas were among the 19th century clientele, and in the first half of the 20th century, the French novelist Colette, who lived down the block, was known to drop in. A more recent caller was basketball great Michael Jordan.
The shop gets many actor customers because it is right by the Comédie-Française, a state theater troupe that itself dates from 1680. The store also sees many elite French politicians because of the proximity of those government offices. Spriet Weisz's favorite current customer, she says, is Jean-Louis Debré, who until earlier this year was president of the Constitutional Council of France, which rules on the constitutionality of proposed French laws—and which is in the Palais-Royal. "He visits every day," she says.
The shop is recognizable outside by its green-and-white striped canopy, and inside it is a classic cigar store. There is a walk-in humidor with 300 different types of cigars; 40 percent are Cubans, as well as cigars from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. À La Civette sells pipes and pipe tobacco as well. "We sell a lot of pipes," she notes. "We are very good for pipes. We have 200 different styles." The shop sees about 400 customers a day, she says.
The name À La Civette is believed to come from the shop's possible beginning as a parfumerie. The civet is a mammal native to Africa and Asia whose glandular secretion was used in the making of scents.
Spriet Weisz said the thing she likes most about her job is talking with the customers. "We see people from all over the world," she says. She herself is a regular cigar smoker. Her father worked for Davidoff, and she began to smoke with him.
"I began with a Davidoff No. 2," she says. "I've tried a lot of cigars. My favorite Cuban cigar is the Cohiba Siglo VI. I still like the Davidoff No. 2. Though I don't smoke every day."
À La Civette may have an additional distinction. "It is certainly the oldest cigar shop in France," says Ms. Spriet Weisz, who is 63 years old and looks much younger. A journalist did some research, she says, and was unable to find an older tobacco emporium in the United States, London or even Amsterdam. "So," she says, "he thinks it is the oldest tobacco shop in the world."
À La Civette
157 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001
Open Monday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.