Some New York landmarks lie in plain sight for years without garnering much notice. One such is La Bonne Soupe, the unpretentious eatery on W. 55th Street near Sixth Avenue that has long been a secret favorite of City Center patrons, Francophiles and lonesome Eurotrash.
La Bonne Soupe is true to its name; it focuses on soup. (Owners Jean-Paul and Monique Picot took the bistro's name from a French comedy playwright Félicien Marceau from the 1950s.) Though there are plenty of other things on the menu, the centerpiece are four daily soups, including French Onion, which are served with bread, salad, dessert and (of course) a glass of wine, all for $16.75.
The atmosphere is bohemian and eclectic. The narrow, walk-down space is lined on either side with small wooden tables. (Don't let them seat you upstairs; it's lonely and not as charming.) The mood is convivial. You won't find tourists here, for the most part. Patrons are either cost-conscious, dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker or displaced Europeans. You'll hear a lot of French spoken, usually by older people who have obviously been there many times and know the waiters by name. The food is very good, but never great. People don't come here for the menu, but the familiar, cozy feeling. It's always packed, so there's always an air of celebration in the place.
For me, La Bonne Soupe epitomizes the sort of place that is fast disappearing from Midtown, and from the City in general. Humble, welcoming, inexpensive, individual, considerate of loyal patrons, clubby, one of a kind. It's been there since 1974—an eon in New York restaurant time. New York deserves a place that feels like a little corner of Paris—and not just places that feel like a corner of Paris that received three Michelin stars.