In 1960, France had 200,000 cafés, said Bernard Quartier, president of the National Federation of Cafés, Brasseries and Discotheques. Now it has fewer than 41,500, with an average of two closing every day.
Not only are the French spending less and drinking less, cutting down on the intensity and quality of the debates, but on Jan. 1, France extended its smoking ban to bars, cafés and restaurants.
Marco Mayeux, 42, the bartender of Le Relais in Paris, said the ban alone had cut his coffee and bar business by 20 percent.
"A place like mine doesn't appeal to everyone; it's very working stiff," he said.
Daniel Perrey, 57, owner of the Café du Crucifix in Crimolois, blamed social change.
People are drinking less, smoking less and spending less, and even those who drink are newly wary of the local police. President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked the police to crack down on drunken drivers.
The café, Perrey said, is a kind of public living room, especially in small towns and cities.
"We have to be very careful," he said. "If we standardize everything in France, and we study everything, and forbid everything, we destroy respect for our culture."