When you visit Paris there are hundreds of things that will make your visit uniquely Parisian, but chief among them is to take a few moments out of your busy day and sit with an espresso in a truly Parisian café. A magnet for artists, philosophers, strollers, celebrities and visitors, the Paris café has been the centre of the city’s cultural life for centuries.
But, because there are so many cafes to choose from, it can be hard to decide which is more authentic than the rest. There are many equally great and lesser known cafes, and some of the most famous Parisian cafes and bars are sightseeing destinations in themselves. From the birthplace of the Bloody Mary to Picasso’s regular hangout, you can sit and soak up the creative vibes from past generations and get inspired by the locale and clientele that bustle around you.
When Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir weren’t debating in the bar across the street, Cafe de Flore, they were lounging here, at the now-upscale hangout for tourists and the Paris elite. In fact, since its doors opened in 1873, it’s likely that every famous person who has visited Paris has come to Les Deux Magots. It has long had a reputation of being the place for rendezvous among the literary and intellectual elite and it even has a literary prize that has been awarded to French novels every year since 1933. Grab a newspaper and tasse de café and plant yourself on their sunny terrace while daydreaming about the days when Hemingway, Camus, and Picasso all rubbed elbows in that very spot.
This iconic Paris institution opened in 1911 under the name “The New York Bar.” It later became Harry’s New York Bar, after the man who was hired to run the bar, Harry McElhone. The bar opened during a time when Americans looking to join Paris’s artistic and literary communities flooded the City of Lights. In response to the influx of visitors, Harry’s created a place and space for ex-pats to relax and feel at home. However, Harry’s is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Bloody Mary, and as the place that has played host to many famous American ex-pats as well as international celebrities like Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway, Gershwin and more!
The Champs Elysees has drawn tourists to its wide and scenic streets for as long as it has been around, and Le Fouquet’s, which is tucked in the famous boulevard, is a similarly famous institution. The traditional restaurant embodies the spirit of the French “high class brasserie” and is the place for people in the worlds of cinema, arts and culture to meet.
Le Fouquet’s opened in 1899 and is known as the place to see-and-be-seen with a history of illustrious guests like Chaplin, Churchill, and Chevalier. Not only will you be surrounded by the history of Le Fouquet’s famous guests who have sipped and sat here before you, but the sidewalk seating it offers is the perfect location for a laid-back afternoon of watching people stroll down the Champs Elysees and nursing a café or cocktail.
Ernest Hemingway made his mark on a number of cafés in Paris, but Le Rotunde tops the list of his haunts. The famous café was immortalized in the author’s book “The Sun Also Rises” when he wrote, “no matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they will always take you to the Rotunde.”
Back when the Montparnasse neighbourhood was known for its Bohemian vibe, Le Rotunde drew celebrity patrons like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Matisse, T.S. Eliot, and Sartre and it acted as a rendezvous point for surrealists and existentialists living in Paris after World War I. Take a break in the Art Deco elegance and Old Paris feel of Le Rotunde.
Another famous Montparnasse bar, La Closerie des Lilas is yet another famous and important Paris institution. It opened in 1847 and has served as a magnet for the social and culinary avant garde ever since. While today you’ll find more tourists than literary giants, the famed people that have sat in the “Lilac Garden” include Stein, Chateaubriand, Picasso, Hemingway, Lenin and Trotsky! If you don’t go for the celebrated history of La Closerie des Lilas, go for the glass-roofed area, brass rails and piano bar this café offers its guests. Enjoy an afternoon café or stop in for a drink in their comfortable banquettes and get to know another local hot-spot in the influential Montparnasse neighbourhood in Paris.
As you wander through Paris neighbourhood streets and follow your nose or your eyes to the best looking café, be sure to check out one—or all!—of these famous cafes that exude Old Paris charm and offer a uniquely Paris experience. Before you spend your afternoons sipping cafes and people watching, be sure to protect your holiday and your health with a travel health insurance policy from Cover-More Australia.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Marcus Grbac.