If you were a fan of Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, you may have been charmed by how the island dwellers made innovative lodgings from leftover ship parts and various scavenged materials.
If so, you weren’t alone. Although the novels were published in 1719 and 1812, respectively, their influence was still evident in Paris in the 1840s and ‘50s. Also trendy at the time were open-air dance halls dubbed “guinguettes," which were the way to spend a summer evening. (“Guinguet” was a type of white wine.)
Sure, they were fun, but guinguettes were a dime a dozen—until innkeeper Joseph Gueusquin came up with a bright idea to differentiate his establishment from the others. At Gueusquin’s Le Grand Robinson, revelers trekked up flights of stairs to enjoy drinks and meals amongst the leafy boughs of a chestnut tree. But the concept wasn’t unique for long—a competitor directly across the street copied Gueusquin's business model, calling his place “Le Grand Arbre.” Gueusquin changed the name of his guinguette to “Le Vrai de Arbre Robinson” (The Real Robinson Tree) to make sure customers knew they were getting the original, but the place across the way wasn’t his only problem. When the bars on high proved bankable, copycats began sprouting up like Starbucks. Soon, guinguettes de Robinson were the standard rather than the exception. Owners cooked up things like donkey races and tree swings to try to separate themselves from the pack, creating interesting experiences in every treetop.
The guinguette trend didn’t die out until WWII, nearly a century later; the last of the treehouse bars finally closed in 1976. All that remains of the trendy treetop taverns now are a few boards still clinging to the branches of those old chestnut trees. There’s also a hint to the area’s fabulously frivolous past in the name of the modern-day Parisian suburb where the bars once sat: Plessis-Robinson.