Since the 19th century, certain Parisian cafés have been a second home to many celebrated authors. Everyone from Émile Zola to Jean-Paul Sartre congregated on their terraces to smoke, drink, and, of course, write. These are the cafés that are a must for literature lovers in Paris.
Paris has always drawn artists to it, and whereas the painters all congregated around Montmartre, the writers loved the 6th Arrondissement, around the Jardin du Luxembourg. Here are some of the best cafés that were frequent haunts of famous authors.
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris
At the corner of Boulevard de Montparnasse and the Jardin du Luxembourg, this café-cum-restaurant has welcomed them all over the years: from Jean-Paul Sartre, Man Ray, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Emile Zola with his friend Paul Cézanne. They and many, many more sat on the terraces in the days when it was still cheaper to drink in cafés than to heat your apartment. The tables are now adorned with little plaques saying who sat where, with Hemingway obviously propping up the bar. There is a fine-dining restaurant and a brasserie with a café and bar downstairs. The prices are steep, but the history is palpable.
6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris
All the usual suspects like Sartre and Beauvoir, Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, James Joyce and, slightly more recently, Julia Childs, sat here and scribbled away. On the corner opposite one of France’s oldest Romanesque churches, Eglise de Saint Germain-des-Prés, the patio of Les Deux Magots is a perfect place for people watching, with busy shoppers and tourists alike sauntering past. But the inside is just as popular as the terrace, and the red banquettes under the watchful eye of the two Magots (the two statues of Mandarin gentlemen perched by one of the columns), are always dotted with locals who take all morning to read the paper.
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris
Practically next door to Les Deux Magots, the Café de Flore took over in popularity with the literary set in the 1930s, with Jean-Paul Sartre calling the café home. Today the café is one of the firm favorites of fashionistas during fashion week. The people watching here is superb, with people parading past just to be seen, and the breakfast is lovely. Choose an omelet or a croissant, a boiled egg or a tartine, and you can linger nearly endlessly. You might also be tempted to color in the paper tablecloth depicting the café, drawn over 40 years ago by famous French illustrator Sempé. It’s too cute!
5 Place de l’Opéra, 75009 Paris
Finally, a café on the Right Bank, I hear you cry. There is no doubting that the 6th Arrondissement was THE place to be for writers, but the Café de la Paix next to Opéra Garnier was a favorite with Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Guy de Maupassant, and Emile Zola (and for once, not Hemingway!). The café is great for, yes, coffee and tea, but it’s an even better spot for dinner after taking in a ballet or opera at the Palais Garnier. The well-dressed hop and skip across the road and indulge in after-theater menus that have inspired writers for years.
4 Boulevard des Capucines, 75009 Pars
Hemingway never ventured much onto Rive Droite, except maybe to head to the bar at The Ritz, but Oscar Wilde frequented the odd café on that side of Paris. In 1891 he stayed in lodgings on the Boulevard des Capucines, and once again, a coffee or two proved to be cheaper and more conducive to sitting and writing than his cold lodgings. So, the showcase Art Nouveau Café des Capucines became his second home when there. He wrote Salomé – in French – while resident at Boulevard des Capucines, and chances are that a fair few pages were penned while sitting in the sumptuous surroundings of the Café des Capucines.
If you love books, then you're in for a treat in Paris! Narrowing the best shops for book lovers down to just five is a difficult task, but to help my fellow traveling bookworms, I'm sure going to give it a try, probably cheating a little as I go.