Literary Paris still lives in the hangouts of history's best writers
More than just a city for lovers, Paris is also a source of inspiration to which the great writers have long gravitated.
Sartre, Hemingway, Miller, Maurras, Hugo and more penned some of their greatest works in the bustling cafés and bars of the French capital.
Here are five of the very best.
Les Deux Magots
Starting out as a novelty goods store majestically overlooked by Saint Sulpice Church on Saint Germain des Prés, Les Deux Magots has -- post-1885 -- morphed into one of the world’s most sought-after dining spots.
The iconic café with its turquoise awning draws its name from the two Chinese figurines on the wall, intriguing mementoes from the establishment’s previous incarnation.
Over the years, they have been witnessed over the coffee-cup rims of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway.
To cement its place in literary folklore, the establishment has even offered its own literary prize each January since 1933.
A favorite of Breton and Picasso and thus key to the surrealist art movement, Les Deux Magots has also helped enhance France’s high-class dining image on the movie screen.
Its interior, crammed with Parisian charm in the shape of leather seats and shining brass rails, has graced a number of motion pictures, most memorably the 1973 comedy classic “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.”
Thankfully, unlike in that movie, the café -- while packed with tourists from all nations -- is not a breeding ground for counter-revolutionaries seeking to kidnap political rivals.
It is simply a place with dapper waiters (ask them about anything, culinary or historical, and they will answer) serving melt-in-the-mouth omelets, the freshest orange juice, and a mouthwatering array of cakes and tartes paraded daily on a giant platter.
Les Deux Magots, 6 Saint Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris, +33 (0) 1 45 48 55 25; open Monday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; www.lesdeuxmagots.fr
Café de Flore
A stone’s throw away from Les Deux Magots is Café de Flore, another Paris landmark, easily recognized by its signature green title on a white awning.
Founded “without doubt” in 1887, according to its website, the café drew its name from the statue of a petite goddess across the street.
The years just prior to 1900 saw author Charles Maurras put the finishing touches to “Sous le Signe de Flore” within, while the prewar years would see Apollinaire and Salmon use the ground floor to edit the arts review “Les Soirées de Paris.”
With the help of André Breton, who presumably spent entire days hopping between Flore and Deux Magots, these Pernod-fuelled collaborators would eventually spawn the Dadaist movement.
In its 1930s heyday, Flore seemed to boast more literary clientele than chairs. Jean Paul Sartre, another with a joint Flore-Magots tab, wrote of spending entire weeks there; drinking, flirting and somehow penning “Les Chemins de la Liberté”between animated hand-waving discussions.
While the quills and paintbrushes may have long disappeared from tables, the wide mirrors, white pillars and red-leather benches still remain in the present-day Flore.
In the suave stakes, the menu certainly matches the décor, with delicate croissants, rich soups and refreshing salad valiantly competing on quality with those of the illustrious rival up the street.
Some travelers report problems when ordering in English, meaning that even if your French lacks Sartre-esque sophistication, it should be nobly used for the sake of keeping peace.
Café de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint Germain, 75006 Paris, +33 (0) 1 45 48 55 26; open Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-2 a.m.; www.cafedeflore.fr
Next, we move from the car-horn commotions of Saint Germain des Prés to the quieter surroundings of Corvisart, seemingly roped in birdsong, a short distance from the head offices of Le Monde newspaper.
Here you will find L’Auberge Etchegorry, a homely eatery formerly known by the more risqué title of “Cabaret de Madame Grégoire.”
The quintessentially elegant Parisian businesswoman, Madame Grégoire was easily able to charm Victor Hugo and Beranger in the 1850s -- with the quality of her shows alone, we are informed.
A fresco inside the present-day restaurant depicts a seated Hugo enjoying the show with his friends while a dubiously modestly dressed Madame Grégoire looks on.
Located opposite a richly green park which is tranquility personified, the present-day Etchegorry prides itself on a host of predominantly Basque dishes.
Among these can be found the sumptuous paupiettes de canard with foie gras and the irrepressible noix de Saint-Jacques, best described with the words “Broiled Scallop Paradise” -- at least, that’s what the menu claims.
A small hotel adjoins the restaurant, the perfect stopover for couples determined to optimize the Etchegorry experience.
L’Auberge Etchegorry, 41 Rue de la Croulebarb, 75013 Paris, +33 (0) 1 44 08 83 51; open Tuesday-Saturday, lunch noon-2.30 p.m., dinner 7.30 p.m.-10.30 p.m.; www.etchegorry.com
Proclaiming itself as “the most famous Parisian brasserie in the world,” La Coupole flaunts its intriguing Art Deco interior to customers with only the merest hint of modesty.
Packed with original paintings from the Roaring Twenties peeping out from between imitation marble pillars, the brasserie devotes several pages of its website to listing the sheer number of celebrities striding, hobbling and stumbling through its doors.
Situated in the ultra-creative Montparnasse quarter, formerly a haven for surrealist painters, La Coupole has witnessed Sartre’s generous tips, Camus’ Nobel Prize celebration, and Hemingway’s flushed face among its highlights.
The latter would often end up in the establishment having first enriched the coffers of La Rotonde, the nearby cinema-café complex to which he claimed every taxi driver in the city would automatically take him.
Today’s menu is rich in seafood, with Dover sole, phyllo-wrapped prawns and oysters from Ireland and Normandy usually available.
All-encompassing seafood platters are on order for anywhere between €26 (US$33) and €115.
La Coupole, 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris, +33 (0) 1 43 20 14 20; Monday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-midnight; www.lacoupole-paris.com
Now celebrating its 120th birthday, the Wepler is still wooing customers with its seafood, offering a celebrated platter of Brittany oysters, shrimp, langoustines and clams for a mere €100.
Formerly eulogized for its shows, tea dances and resplendent drawing room, Wepler has magnetized numerous artists and high-profile writers, including Apollinaire, Truffaut, Chabrol and Arthur Miller.
Nowadays the restaurant, a brief stroll from Place de Clichy metro station, has loosened its previously stiff collar and offers a takeaway seafood menu from noon to midnight.
The café also benefits from the Midas touch of a resident pastry chef, whose handiwork goes down especially well with a house cocktail.
Brasserie Wepler, 14 Place de Clichy, 75018 Paris, +33 (0) 1 45 22 53 29; Monday-Sunday, noon-12:30 a.m.; www.wepler.com
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