Le Carillon: Shocked owners touched by support

Days after the gunman slaughtered several of their regular clients, members of the family who have owned Le Carillon bar for 40 years tell The Local of the trauma of witnessing what happened and how regulars are urging them to reopen when the time is right.

Le Carillon: Shocked owners touched by support
Mourners outside Le Carillon bar after the November 13th terror attacks. All photos: AFP

On weekend evenings the pavement terrace that bends around the Le Carillon bar by Canal Saint Martin is usually packed with the hip and trendy from around the neighbourhood.

It was no different on Friday November 13th, with many of the usual crowd who frequent the iconic bar sat drinking on the terrace that faces the Petit Cambodge restaurant on Rue Bichat.

“My cousin had just been out to collect glasses from outside and just as he got back behind the bar, the shooting started,” Momo, one of the members of the Algerian family who runs Le Carillon, told The Local this week.

“When it’s busy at weekends we don’t do table service, so we were all behind the bar when it started.”

“We realised pretty quickly it wasn’t just someone setting off fire crackers. I immediately ran up the stairs behind the bar. My cousin ran to the toilet and locked himself in,” Momo said, his voice trembling.

“The shooting seemed to last about a minute and a few minutes later we went back down stairs,” he said.

By that point the gunmen had fled, moving on to their next target, just a short distance away where people were drinking and eating on the terraces of two other restaurants – Café Bonne Biere and Le Casa Nostra.

At Le Carillon what they had left behind was nothing short of carnage.

“There was blood everywhere, people lying on floor, screaming and shouting. My cousin's a doctor and came down stairs and started treating people. People were shouting for scissors to cut off clothes.”

He said it took around 10 minutes for police and teams of paramedics to turn up, which he said seemed like an age.

“I was crying. I didn’t know what to do. I was traumatised, in shock,” said Momo.

His uncle Otto, who runs Le Petit Carillon a short walk away up the Canal Saint Martin, had been called and told “that people are shooting at Le Carillon”.

“I just got in the car and sped down there, but the police wouldn’t let me near the bar,” he told The Local. “I thought it must have been two gangs settling a score over drugs.

“I wanted to get inside. I told police 'I am family', but they wouldn’t let me in,” Otto told The Local. “It was total panic.

“I still have this image of the bodies on the pavement in front of the door of the bar with jackets over their faces. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” he said. “Firemen were trying to save people’s lives, they were pumping someone's chest” he said.

Some of the gunmen’s bullets pierced the windows and the walls of the bar.

Witnesses say that in the panic and confusion some of those drinking inside ran outside towards the gunmen thinking the shooting was occurring from in the bar. It is unknown whether the instinctive reaction cost them their lives.

Questions have been asked why terrorists would choose to target a bar run by an Algerian family and a Cambodian restaurant.

Some believe it is simply because they represent everything the gunmen were against: a place where people of all creeds and colours are free to smoke, to flirt, to sing, to dance, to laugh and to get drunk if they so wish.

But it seems that it was chosen simply because the large terrace and the big windows of the Petit Cambodge was an enticing target for terrorists intent on claiming as many victims as possible.

In all 15 young people were gunned down at Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge. 

Among those who died on the terrace were the twin sisters Charlotte and Emilie Meaud, both aged 30. A friend also died along with them, who reports say had only just married in August.

The two attackers believed to be the Abdeslam brothers.

Brahim Abdeslam later blew himself up the Comptoir Voltaire on Avenue Voltaire, while Salah is presumed to be on the run and is the subject of an international arrest warrant. Another assailant, possibly the driver of the black Seat car, is also being hunted by police.

“One thing I remember was all the people filming and taking photos and the police were shouting at them to stop,” said Otto.

Members of the family were allowed back into Le Carillon the next day while officials from the Town Hall were sent in to help with the traumatic job of cleaning up.

The bar remains closed for the foreseeable future and has since become a makeshift shrine with flowers, photos of the victims and messages of defiance and peace left where the bodies fell.

Since then its regulars have been paying homage to the bar and its unique ambiance.

“At Le Carillon, we drank too much, smoked too much, sang too loudly on the pavement… but certainly never laughed too much or lived too much,” wrote one French journalist.

“Le Carillon was my favourite bar in Paris. It was a lot of people's favourite bar. I hope it will be again,” wrote an English journalist.

Momo finds the thought of reopening again hard to comprehend but it is the messages of support from those very regulars that he is holding to. 

He says the bar will likely remain closed until December 10th.

“It will be extremely difficult, but so many people have told me they will be there as soon as we reopen,” he said.

On Thursday the family posted a letter of thanks on the door of the bar.

It read:

“We would like to give our sincere condolences and show our deepest solidarity with all the families of the victims, their loved ones and you, dear friends and regulars who have been the soul of this place for 40 years.”

“We haven’t been able to express ourselves sooner due to shock and how to find the right words for such a moment – but all of our thoughts since Friday go towards you who have lost a loved one.”
“Thank you for all your support which touches us. Courage to you all, and let us stay united in sorrow but also in hoping for happier and forever more fraternal days.”
We love you.
Le Carillon”