... This time we're off to Lille. Last week I had a couple of hours to spare there between trains. A quick online surf and I headed off to the rue des Chats Bossus - 'street of the hunchback cats'. What had happened to those unfortunate cats? No one I asked had any idea. My destination was a local landmark building, the mosaic-covered Huîtrière, or oyster bar.
No.3 announces itself with a large sign and with decorative flourishes of every kind, including a striking pair of bulbous, fish-eyed, stained-glass windows at first-floor level. L'Huîtrière opened in 1928 and was Lille's finest oyster bar and fishmonger for decades, holding a Michelin star by the time it closed in 2015. The building, designed by architect Gaston Trannoy, is covered inside and out with mosaic and stained-glass panels. These are my favourite kind of mosaic; ones that are integral to a building's structure, and give it an aesthetic voice. And this is a voice you can't ignore; stylishly done, the panels celebrate all things aquatic and are topped off by a large lobster stoically roasting on a silver platter, all framed in Art-Deco style embellishments. The building's oyster-bar days are long gone and it is now a very chic Louis Vuitton shop. The security guards on the door looked particularly forbidding but when I asked if I could look at the mosaics inside they melted into smiles and were delighted to show off their beautiful premises.
These exterior mosaics are by the French firm of Gentil Bourdet; Alphonse Gentil (1872-1933) and François Eugène Bourdet (1874-1952). The pair worked across northern France and also, intriguingly, in Mexico.
The interior of the shop features lots of stained glass and several dramatic panels in smalti showing fishing scenes. I've left the handbags and sunglasses in, just in case you might enjoy looking at them.