French language question - (A) La Bonne Bière

This New York Times article about the reopening of a Paris cafe targeted in the recent terrorist attacks refers to it as “La Bonne Bière” (“The Good Beer”), while their awning says “A La Bonne Bière” - what does the “A” (to/at?) signify here? Which name is correct?

At a bit of a guess, I would say it means something like the archaic English phrase, “At the sign of La Bonne Bière.”

Their Facebook page is “Café Bonne Bière.” This article in Le Figaro uses: À la Bonne Bière (twice in contexts where it is clearly the title), “La Bonne Bière” (9 times, including a few after de where à would not be possible and including the comments.)

Based on that, I would say that Café Bonne Bière is correct, “la Bonne Bière” is a nickname, and the awning “à la bonne bière” is a toast, which then gets understood as the name based on the sign. (I don’t think it’s “at the sign of” because signe is masculine.)

Not quite, Dr. Drake.
“A la bonne bière” is the full name of the bar, but the A is cumbersome semantically so it’s usually ellided when talking about the bar because “à” also signifies where something has happened - so we’d have to say “une fusillade a eu lieu à A la bonne bière”, which just sounds silly. It’s not the same “à” as in “à ta santé” (i.e. “*to *your health”), but like Northern Piper says it’s to be understood in a geographic sense, “*At *[the place called]the Good Beer”. I would indeed expect that’s derived from medieval or early modern constructions. Although I suppose in this particular case one could imagine the name as a play on words to evoke the toast idiom as well as the exclamation “Ah ! La bonne bière !”, which a XIXth century guy might have said upon drinking a good fookin’ pint. But mostly it’s the first thing.

Oh, and while signe is indeed masculine, it’s one of them false friends. “Un signe” is a gesture, as in sign language. A sign as in a representative picture or motto hanging from a street wall is “une enseigne”. Same etymology but different word.

Other typical café & restaurant name constructions would be “Chez X” (=“X’s” in English - Lloyd’s [Pub] for example), Café de [some place] (“café des sports”, “café de la poste”) and “Le [place]” (e.g. “Le Saint-Michel”, “Le Petit Montmartre” etc…)

The preposition à is sometimes used on signs located at the premises of restaurants, hotels, and stores. It’s an idiomatic usage and not usually translated into English. So the sign on the door will say “À La Bonne Bière,” but the name of the place would be “La Bonne Bière.”

Similarly, the famous French department store is “Le Printemps,” but the big fancy sign says “Au Printemps,” as we see here. (The combination à + le contracts to au in French.)

As for its origin, I have no idea. I would guess that because à means “at,” the signs are saying that you’re at that place, but that is speculation.

Thanks for the corrections, Kobal2. Interresant!

Thanks for the replies! - one other question - I see the awning dispenses with accent marks, is that typical for such signage? Is that supposed to imply a “casual” attitude, or am I off base with that?

The French tend to leave accent marks off of capital letters. It’s not universal, but neither is it strange or particularly informal to do so.

Yup. Oddly enough, I could swear I was actually taught in school* that “no accents on capitals ; cedillas required however” was the iron cast rule. However a quick mosey over to the website of the Académie Française confirms that all capitals should in fact include diacritical marks - accents, cedillas, tildes and diaeresis alike.
Ignorance fought.

According to them, the (very very) common omission of those marks on capitals is or was due to the technical and financial constraints of typewriters/computer keyboards/printers’ typesets.

  • (back in the 80s when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the Sun shone a little brighter)

It gets weird when you have three e’s in a row, as in


Follow-up question for our French dopers:

I’ve noticed a couple of times in France a sign for a roadside bar or similar establishment where the name is feminine, but the sign says “Le…” For example, “Le maison blanche”.

Is this something you’re familiar with? Any idea what’s going on?

Don’t know much about Frenchery, but the interpretation of “A La Bonne Bière” that appears to me is something like “At ‘The Good Beer’”, basically saying “this is the place known as ‘the Good Beer’”, or “You are at…etc.”

Can’t say I’ve ever noticed, but then again I don’t drive around much :o.
Could be a typo of course, but while “maison” is indeed feminine but the words “bar”, “restaurant”, “hotel”, “café” which are implied here are all masculine words so the signs could reflect that. It’s unusual however.

It could also be an attempt to avoid confusion, especially in rural areas : a sign pointing to “la maison blanche” could point towards a notable private house or what we call “lieux-dits” (basically a small topographical or geographical spot that has been named by the locals at some point, for one reason or another), whereas there’s no mistaking “Le Maison blanche” for anything but a commercial establishment.