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Ernest Hemingway once said that “Paris is a moveable feast.” As one of the most spirited and influential writers to frequent the city, he could not have been more correct. The City of Light has been a hub for several artistic movements in the past two centuries, with many intellectual elites brewing up ideas in one street-corner cafe or another. Following are a few iconic spots for literary enthusiasts to read books or perhaps, dream up their own stories.
Cafe de la PaixThe history of the baroque Cafe de la Paix is innately tied with its proximity to Palais Garnier, one of the most famous opera houses in the world. Patrons such as Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde — one of the cafe’s most regular clients — would often stop to dine before attending the opera.
The restaurant takes pride in its gourmet gastronomy, but also serves on-the-go meals in its indoor terrace. Cafe de la Paix is especially known for its Sunday brunch, when visitors can sip champagne while overlooking the magnificent Palais Garnier.
Cremerie-Restaurant PolidorMinutes from Odeon Theater and Luxembourg Gardens, Cremerie-Restaurant Polidor is a restaurant in the Latin Quarter famous for its cream desserts and unique decor. The traditional French menu and interior of the restaurant have remained essentially unchanged for the past century, as communal tables still encourage diners to intermingle with one another.
Victor Hugo, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller were among the Polidor’s renowned clientele, and the restaurant also served as a setting in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” film, where the main character, Gil, meets Hemingway and Salvador Dali. Today, due to its proximity to the Sorbonne and the College de France, it is a popular hangout spot for local students.
La Closerie des LilasSince 1847, the La Closerie des Lilas cafe has been a breeding ground for literary masterpieces. Its ground floor served as a Tuesday meeting spot for symbolist poets such as Paul Verlaine, Paul Fort and others who would convene to bounce around ideas and poems.
In the early 20th century, La Closerie des Lilas became a hotspot for the American intelligentsia of the 1920s. Its terrace is where F. Scott Fitzgerald purportedly read the manuscript for “The Great Gatsby” to Ernest Hemingway for the first time and where Hemingway allegedly wrote most of “The Sun Also Rises.” Today, brass plaques around the restaurant indicate the seats of notorious patrons such as Samuel Beckett and Ezra Pound. La Closerie des Lilas is open late, and its piano bar is one of Paris’ coolest music clubs.
La CoupoleA less-expensive alternative to the Montmartre art district, the bohemian neighborhood of Montparnasse became a mecca for Parisian literati in the 1900s. It was in this lively district that the La Coupole restaurant reached the height of its popularity.
On La Coupole’s website, check out the A-Z list of celebrities who frequented the restaurant, along with unique anecdotes about each one. Clients can even request the regular tables of their favorite writers. A fan of existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre? Request table number 149 by the cloakroom.
The restaurant is also a great spot for special occasions. Albert Camus celebrated his Nobel Prize for literature on October 1957 at La Coupole. Today, it is not only considered a historic restaurant, but also an architectural masterpiece of Art Deco heritage.
Literary greats such as Oscar Wilde could often be found in the cafes and bars of Paris, including Cafe de la Paix, where patrons also have a view of the famous Palais Garnier opera house. // © 2014 Creative Commons user solapenna
With an interior that has remained unchanged for over a century, diners at the Cremerie-Restaurant Polidor still sit at long, communal tables. // © 2014 Creative Commons user benandclare
La Closerie des Lilas’ outdoor terrace is where F. Scott Fitzgerald read his first draft of “The Great Gatsby” to Ernest Hemingway. // © 2014 Creative Commons user hotels-paris-rive-gauche
In 2008, four internationally-acclaimed artists — Carole Benzaken, Fouad Bellamine, Xiao-Fan and Ricardo Mosner — adorned the interior dome of La Coupole with the restaurant’s original themes: "woman," "celebration" and "nature." // © 2014 Creative Commons user twiga_269
Voltaire’s desk is pristinely maintained at Le Procope today. // © 2014 Creative Commons user crustina
Les Deux Magots, which means "two Chinese figurines," gets its name from a novelty shop that once occupied its premises before turning into a cafe. // © 2014 Creative Commons user roboppy
Le ProcopeFounded in 1686, Le Procope prides itself on being not only the oldest continually-operating restaurant in Paris, but also the world’s first literary cafe. The brasserie became known quickly for its Italian sorbets and coffee, which were considered delicacies at the time.
Known as the “cafe of wits,” it was the haunt of 18th century Enlightenment intellectuals and 19th century literary elites, such as Jacques Rousseau, Honore de Balzac and its most famous patron, Voltaire, who was notorious for his excessive coffee-drinking. Voltaire enthusiasts can even find his desk pristinely maintained at the restaurant today. Be aware that the restaurant is a Parisian hot spot, and reservations sometimes need to be made at least a week in advance.
Les Deux MagotsNestled on a bustling street corner in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, Les Deux Magots is a historic cafe and bar that gained its popularity as a rendezvous spot for Paris’ literary elite in the early 20th century. In the late-night buzz of the Les Deux Magots crowd, surrealists, intellectuals and young bohemians would sip absinthe and find inspiration for their work.
Famous patrons include Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. The cafe even makes an appearance in some great works of literature. “I sat with uranists in the Duex Magots,” said Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” for example.
Today, the cafe is a popular tourist destination where travelers can enjoy a buttery croissant and marvel at the Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Pres (Saint-Germain-des-Pres Church), the oldest church in Paris, while secretly wondering which historic Parisian icon sat in their seat decades earlier.