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Paris restaurants defy terrorism in the most French way possible

Parisians dine and drink amid the chaos

Paris is on edge once again today, after police launched a predawn raid against suspected terrorists involved in last week’s attacks. Two suspects have been killed and several others have been arrested, but for a few fleeting hours last night, it seemed as if normalcy was within reach.

On Tuesday, Parisians flocked to local restaurants and bars in a uniquely French display of solidarity. It was all part of a social media campaign called #TousAuBistrot ("everyone to the bar"). Led by the restaurant reviews site Le Fooding, the campaign called on Parisians to spend their Tuesday evening at bars, restaurants, and cafe terraces around the city, as an act of defiance against terrorists who directly targeted a cornerstone of French culture Friday night. Among the six sites attacked last week were five restaurants and bars in the city’s trendy 10th and 11th arrondissements. The attacks left 129 dead and 352 injured.

"We are going to keep on living."

In a post on its website, Le Fooding described the campaign as a way to show that France’s traditional cafe culture would not be "betrayed by our fears," though tensions are still running high, and the ordeal is far from over. A female suspect blew herself up in a police raid early Wednesday morning outside Paris, another suspect was killed, and seven others were arrested, according to the Associated Press. The raid targeted the alleged mastermind of the plot, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, though it is not yet clear whether he was among those arrested or dead.

Restaurants, museums, and other stores were largely shuttered on Saturday, after the French government enacted a state of emergency that President François Hollande wants to extend for three months. Museums and schools have since reopened, though there are concerns that the violence may dampen Paris’ vibrant tourist and hospitality industries.

"We're not like London, where you have finance and all these other industries," says Jean Valfort, owner of the Farago, a tapas bar and restaurant in the city’s 10th arrondissement. "In Paris, it’s just restaurants and hotels."

Valfort decided to open his restaurant on Saturday, as an act of solidarity, though he only received around 25 diners and lost €4,000 that night alone. He says he’s had to weather a storm of cancellations over the past few days, as have others. A friend of his who owns a hotel in the city says he’s lost €50,000 in cancelled reservations since Friday.

The Farago was among many restaurants and bars that joined Le Fooding’s campaign Tuesday. Didier Chenet, of the restaurant industry association SYNHORCAT, told the AFP news agency this week that more than half of the city’s establishments supported the campaign to show "that we are going to keep on living." It’s not clear how many people actually went out last night because of the initiative, but many shared photos on Twitter and Facebook under the hashtags #TousAuBistrot and #JeSuisAuTerrasse ("I am on the cafe terrace"). Le Fooding also asked that restaurant-goers observe a minute of silence at 9 PM Tuesday night, and branded the campaign using a variation on the viral "Peace for Paris" image created by artist Jean Jullien.

The Farago was close to full when I stopped by for a drink last night, as were other bars along the same street — a quiet, cobblestoned cul-de-sac in central Paris. The restaurant is a short walk away from the cafes and concert hall that were targeted Friday night, and the neighborhood isn’t a major tourist destination.

Valfort, who is opening a second restaurant closer to the touristy Opera district, said it was encouraging to hear the familiar sounds of chatter and clinking glasses last night, though he’s still wary of the future. False alarms and suspicious packages have left Parisians on edge, and Reuters reports that the suspected militants arrested today were planning an attack on the city’s La Défense business district.

"Yes, of course I am worried," Valfort says. "If everything remains calm then things will return to normal. But if we have another attack in the next few days, we will be dead."