Historic Cafés of Paris:
Paris is famous for its café scene and an enduring image is of Parisians passing time at a café reading their newspaper, friends having a rendez-vous over a slow drink, businessmen and women discussing deals in a relaxed environment or people just chilling out and watching the world go by.
But for many visitors, the romantic vision of eminent writers, philosophers, artists and musicians mingling and having animated discussions about the issues of the day in Paris Left Bank cafés hold great attraction. Imagine sitting in the seat where Hemingway sat or the table at which Jean Paul Satre wrote for hours each day.
St-Germain-des-Prés was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual life in the 1950s, all centred around its cafés and bars. Writers, philosophers, musicians and actors consorted in the bars and cafés discussing anything from art to music and having debates on new philosophical ideas.
Three of the celebrated cafés that enjoyed the patronage of these eminent people are within striking distance of each other. The leading lights are long gone, but the cafés are as popular as ever. These days their clientele may include publishers and writers, the rich and trendy, some who come to see and be seen and the curious tourists.
St-Germain-des-Prés today is a more affluent area with antique shops, designer fashion boutiques and trendy shops. After a busy day pounding the pavements of Paris, having a drink at a historic café is a nice way to refuel nd relax. On my first visit to Les Deux Magots, when the Australian dollar was quite worthless, I remember being shocked at the A$12 cost of a glass of mineral water. So be warned that the drinks are rather pricey – €5.90 for a soft drink – but then you’re entitled to sit there for as long as you like.
Historic Literary Cafés
Les Deux Magots
6 Place St-Germain-des-Prés
Les Deux Magots actually started life in 1813 as a drapery, selling silk and other luxury items. The name of the café ‘Les Deux Magots’ was taken from a successful play of the time – ‘The Two Magots of China’. On the central pillar inside the café, you’ll see two wooden Asian statues.
After a refurbishment in 1914, Les Deux Magots became the place to “see and be seen”. Legendary figures of the literary and art world frequented the café – people like Verlaine, Mallarme, Oscar Wilde, Guillaume Apollinaire and others frequently have lively debates on important issues of the day. Jean Paul Sartre, would take his seat at Les Deux Magots and, together with Simone de Beauvoir, would write for hours, often without a break. Sometimes he would stop to talk to Ernest Hemingway, another regular customer.
Whist the buildings in the St-Germain-des-Prés district have remained the same, life certainly has changed a lot in the area and literary elites such as Jean Paul Sartre, Hemingway or Oscar Wilde are rarely to be seen. Les Deux Magots still tries to maintain its history by have literary awards every year and its clientele would probably be a mix of publishers, writers, people-watchers and curious tourists.
Café de Flore
172 Blvd St-Germain
Like its rival Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, was also home to many literary elites. Satre, who appears to live in cafés, was a regular here and Camus, Picasso, and Apollinaire also frequented the Flore.
The Café has kept its classic Art Deco interior, red-seating, mahogany and mirrors and is still going strong even though the famous patrons have moved on. These days affluent Parisians and tourists are the new clientele.
151 Blvd St-Germain
Brasserie Lipp is the third of the famous St-Germain-des-Prés cafés. The usual suspects were regulars at Brasserie Lipp – Hemingway wrote his pre-war dispatches from here and in the Fifties Chagall, Camus, Jean Genet, Balthus, Michèle Morgan, Françoise Sagan, Charles Trenet, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand were all regulars of this famous establishment.
Founded by Leonard Lipp, a refugee from Alsace, it serves Alsatian cuisine, Alsatian beer and excellent coffee – Marcel Proust used to send for the jugs of Alsatian beer from across town. It appears to be popular with politicians, fashion couturiers and tourists. The inside of Brasserie Lipp is quite atmospheric with its original 1926 art deco style, yellow tiles and Belle Epoque floral ceramics and mosaic panels and decorated mirrors.
Map of St-Germain-des-Prés: