The café scene is a vital part of the social life of Paris where artists, writers, intellectuals and celebrities meet in one of Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ celebrated cafés: Café Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Brasserie Lipp and Le Procope.
Café culture in Paris
For most Parisians, the café culture is an everyday experience involving meeting friends or business partners. Or simply reading the daily newspaper while watching the world go by as Zola rightly put it: ‘great silent crowds watching the street live’.
Already in 1702, when the first cafés opened in Paris, Louis, knight of Mailly wrote:
“The cafés are most agreeable places, and ones where one finds all sorts of people of different characters. There one sees fine young gentlemen, agreeably enjoying themselves; there one sees the savants who come to leave aside the laborious spirit of the study; there one sees others whose gravity and plumpness stand in for merit. Those, in a raised voice, often impose silence on the deftest wit, and rouse themselves to praise everything that is to be blamed, and blame everything that is worthy of praise. How entertaining for those of spirit to see originals setting themselves up as arbiters of good taste and deciding with an imperious tone what is over their depth!”
Café Les Deux Magots
A very popular tourist destination, the celebrated café was once the meeting place of the literary and intellectual elite of France.
After World War II, many artists and intellectuals met in Les Deux-Magots, particularly philosophers, writers and artists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Boris Vian, and Juliette Gréco.
The café takes its name from a nearby fabric and novelty shop which itself was named after a popular play in 1800 – Les Deux Magots de la Chine. ‘Magot’ is a term meaning a stocky figurine from the Far East. Two wooden statues representing Chinese mandarins (or magicians) are found inside the coffee house on a pillar.
Café de Flore
Only a block away from Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore (founded in 1885) is one of the most prestigious cafés in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its name refers to Flora, goddess of flowers whose statue is located on the opposite side of Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Many French intellectuals met at the café including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
The interior is decorated in Art Deco style with red seating, mahogany and mirrors.
The brasserie was founded in 1880 by Léonard Lipp, a native from Alsace who opted to move to Paris after the German annexation of his region. Verlaine and Apollinaire were amongst the first famous patrons to taste the chef’s choucroute garnie. Many French politicians and actors are known to eat at the restaurant.
Café Le Procope
The first café opened in Paris (and in the world) is Le Procope at number 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. Founded in 1686 by a Sicilian native of Palermo, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, it was the meeting place for the literary gents during Molière’s time. In the 18th century, it was a meeting place for Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and D’Alembert.
There, Benjamin Franklin, then Ambassador to France, worked on the U.S. Constitution at a table. A commemorative plaque mentioned that it was in the café that the American worked on the alliance treaty between Louis XVI and the new Republic of the United States.
It was at Le Procope that the Phrygian cap, soon to be the symbol of Liberty, was first displayed during the Revolution.
Le Procope has one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hat on display in a glass case at the entrance.
The interior is decorated in the 18th century style with Pompeian walls, crystal chandeliers and oval portraits of famous French patrons.
There are two entrances to the café: at rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and at Cours du Commerce Saint-André.
Read more about the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.