Well-named the “City of Light” or the “Capital of Art,” Paris is an animated, noisy and uncompromising town. When we think about this tremendous city, several images come to mind: a romantic Paris, an artistic Paris, a literary Paris.
The best representations of a literary Paris are several famed cafés that have been frequented for decades by many celebrated writers and artists in order to gather, engage in discourse, share ideas and gain inspiration.
Here is an overview of these wonderful historic bistros:
One of the most known of its kind is La Closerie des Lilas. Located in the Port-Royal district and surrounded by verdant space, La Closerie des Lilas holds a longstanding and well-established reputation for literary gathering. Inside, an alternating pattern of woodwork, mosaics and huge mirrors exemplify quintessential Parisian chic. In its time, this café attracted literary and artistic greats such as Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, Émile Zola and Ernest Hemingway.
In the Parisian district of Saint-Germain-des-Près, another such legendary café is Les Deux Magots, also known for frequent visitation of Parisian intellectuals such as Hemingway, Picasso, Camus, Brecht, Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, all of whom reserved tables in their time. The word “magot” comes from the two little statuettes on the central pilar inside the café, each representing stocky figurines from the Far East – possibly a magician or alchemist from that time period.
Also in the disctrict of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one can find Le Café de Flore. This is perhaps one of the most revered literary gathering cafés of the capital. Inside, almost nothing has changed since the end of World War II, including its infamous red seats, mahogany and mirrors. Le Café de Flore is particularly famed for hosting clientele such as Georges Bataille, Robert Desnos and Raymond Queneau.
Finally, it is integral to mention Café Procope as perhaps the most well-known spot for literary gathering for centuries. Founded in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, Café Procope is the oldest Parisian café still functioning. The Procope welcomed by turns La Fontaine, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, Marat, Robespierre, Napoléon Bonaparte, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Gambetta and Verlaine.
It would be impossible to separate Parisian intellectual life from the intrinsic literary gathering cafés scattered about the city that remain today one of the most distinguished representations of our great capital.