My husband and I went on our first date at the French Cafe. I suppose I chose that spot for all the usual reasons that Omahans chose it for more than 40 years: It seemed romantic. Impressive. Fancy. Cultured. And I was an Omaha girl who wanted to impress an out-of-town boy. A long time passed between that first date and our second date (another story for another blog post) but years later, after we had fallen in love and settled together in a one-bedroom apartment on 13th Street, my husband insisted we go back to the French Cafe on a Saturday night.
We had already gone to dinner and had a drink. I’m fine with going home, I said.
He insisted again. I didn’t get it.
He asked for the same table we’d occupied on our first date. I still didn’t get it.
Then, hands trembling, he pulled a Borsheim’s box out of his pocket and asked.
It was as romantic as it sounds.
I felt sad, but maybe not surprised, when I learned yesterday that the French Cafe had closed. I know I’m far from the only person in Omaha who got engaged there, or who has lovely, romantic memories of the place. I remember going there as a little girl and being enchanted by the huge black-and-white photographs on the west wall. I stayed enchanted with them every time I went there, even the last time, for a drink a few weeks ago, when we were nearly the only people in the place. I wondered then what would happen to the French Cafe. I realized then that the city had largely deserted it.
I can’t say I went there a lot. I think many Omahans can say the same thing. And even though the restaurant has floundered these past few years, making lots of changes and trying frantically to find itself, I don’t think I ever thought it would be gone.
The French Cafe kick started the Old Market. The Old Market: The first place I drove my red Pontiac Sunbird when I got my driver’s license. An escape that I’ve always returned to, even when we moved out of that one-bedroom apartment on 13th Street. A place where I first felt like I could be myself. A part of the city where I still eat many meals and drink countless glasses of wine with friends. The best part of Omaha. So for that, if nothing else, I will always remember, and appreciate the French Cafe.
It helped to make my Omaha what it is.
Vintage photo courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald. Wedding photos by my friend and OWH photographer Matt Miller.