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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Prestigious Paris restaurant La Tour d'Argent made over 1.5 million euros ($2.2 million) from auctioning off a selection of wines and liqueurs from its cellar, one of the finest in the world.
The sale of 18,000 bottles out of the 450,000 stored in a maze of dark alleys beneath the restaurant, located on the left bank of the River Seine, was meant to clear some space and raise funds for the purchase of new wines and for renovations.
The star attraction was a bottle of "Clos du Griffier" cognac dated 1788, which was sold to a French entrepreneur for 25,000 euros. The proceeds from that bottle will go to charity.
The total amount of cash generated was comfortably above the original estimate of 1 million euros after every single bottle that was put up for sale found a buyer during two days of fast-paced bidding on Monday and Tuesday.
"The past two days were very moving to me," said restaurant owner Andre Terrail in a statement after the end of the auction.
"Every bottle sold in this sale will have to find the right moment and the right atmosphere to be appreciated to the fullest. Buyers acquired not only excellent wines, but also a large part of our history and soul," he said.
Founded in 1582, La Tour d'Argent was popular with successive kings of France. It was stormed during the French Revolution before passing to Napoleon's personal chef in the 1800s.
Perhaps its darkest hour came during World War Two, when high-ranking Nazis took to dining there on a regular basis.
Then owner Claude Terrail, father of the current proprietor, walled up the cellar to preserve his finest vintages from these unwelcome guests. He also eavesdropped on their conversations and passed nuggets of information to the French Resistance.
La Tour d'Argent continues to attract a cast of celebrities ranging from monarchs to presidents and Hollywood actors to astronauts. Signed photographs of U.S. presidents compete for space with the likes of Grace Kelly or John Travolta.
But the restaurant, where diners enjoy a dazzling view of Notre Dame cathedral while sampling the signature dish of pressed duck served in its blood, is also a favorite with ordinary families who come to celebrate special events.
David Ridgway, head sommelier at La Tour d'Argent for 28 years, said in an interview with Reuters ahead of the sale that he had lost count of the number of marriage proposals he had witnessed.
"Not a week goes by when I don't see at least one or two young men getting down on their knees," he said.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Noah Barkin