There are few tourist destinations like Paris that can evoke such a powerful and wide range of images and associations, full of stories and unforgettable places, even on the subject of coffee. Walking through Montmartre or Marais, the temptation to stop in one of the bars which enrich the city streets is overwhelming. So, in order to let you live this experience to the full, we have decided to give you a guide to the most unmissable historical cafés in Paris.
The historical cafés of Paris
After New York and Prague, we have chosen the French capital to recommend some of the best historical cafés: we will accompany you through the marvelous rooms, to taste quality coffees, teas and hot chocolates exactly as Napoleon, Picasso, Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir and many others did in the past.
Café de Flore
If you want to experience the charm of the Bohemian atmosphere steeped in art, literature and philosophy, then the Café de Flore is the place for you. This establishment was inaugurated at the beginning of the Third Republic, in 1887, and owes its name to the presence of a statue of the divinity positioned right outside the bar.
Among the clientele we can find significant characters in the fields of culture, literature, cinema and philosophy: Apollinaire and André Breton were the most important names along with Camus and Picasso. During World War II and the Occupation, the Café de Flore was transformed into a real outpost for the French Resistance, as the painter Henri Pellettier recalls: “at Flore we sailed through the Occupation as if it were an ocean, the crashing of events broke against the planking”; in those same years, also Jean Paul Sartre wrote of himself and Simone de Beauvoir: “we have totally taken up home here: from 9 to midday we work, we go to lunch, and after two hours we come back and after dinner we meet our friends there and others with whom we have appointments. It may seem strange to you but at Flore we felt at home”.
Even in the following decades, the café was host to many people of National and International importance such as Hemingway, Capote, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon right up to Sharon Stone and Francis Ford Coppola who spoke on French TV saying that he would like to move to Paris simply so he could have breakfast every day at the Café de Flore.
If you go to this café, we recommend sampling the Café Flore special (also in its Baileys version), the Flore special with chocolate and the large selection of teas.
Café de la Paix
Opened way back in 1862 by the Empress Eugenia, as a bar with the same name as the hotel which can be found on the upper floors, the Café de la Paix has always been an example of elegance and style for its refined furnishings and precious frescoes.
The Café de la Paix was also a reference point for many intellectuals, especially Oscar Wilde. It is said that one day, from the terrace of the Café, in the middle of the fog, a large golden angel could be seen. Everyone was shouting that it was a miracle, but Wilde understood immediately what this “trick” of the eye really was: it was no vision, but the large statue on top of the Opera House, which, due to some strange trick of the light, was reflected on the fog, right in the middle of the road.
World War II left its mark on this establishment too: on the 25th of August 1944, during a battle to free the city, a German grenade sparked a fire. The waiters and all the staff, with their quick intervention, saved the café from the flames.
If you want to choose the best time to go to the Café de la Paix, we recommend going during brunch: the Chef Laurent André has transformed this moment into a riot of food and drink, an occasion not to be missed.
Café du Dome
Since 1898 this place has been offering delicacies, culture and art in the Montparnasse quarter. The Café du Dome has always attracted clientele from the artistic field, such as painters, sculptors, writers, poets, models and art dealers, thus being transformed into a focal point for the artists living on the Rive Gauche in Paris. In fact, at that time, you could feed yourself with a Toulouse sausage and a plate of potato purée for the equivalent of just one euro (about 1.13 US dollars).
The Café du Dome was also recognized as the real meeting point of the great colony of American writers, and others who frequented the French Capital: a specific term was actually coined, the Dômiers, which referred to the International group of artists and writers that used to meet in the café’s rooms. Among these were Robert Capa, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Wassily Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso.
The Café Procope is considered the first café of Paris and some people think, of the whole of Europe. It was opened exactly 20 years after the arrival, in the French court, of the drink, by that time known as coffee, thanks to the Sultan Mohammed IV.
In locale 1686 the café was taken over by an Italian originally from Acitrezza, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli to which it owes its name. This character is also credited with the invention of ice-cream. In fact, in his café they served iced waters (granita), fruit ice-creams, anise flowers, cinnamon flowers, frangipane, lemon juice ice-cream, orange juice ice-cream and strawberry sorbet. By order of king Louis XIV, this entrepreneur was the only one in Paris allowed to sell these delicacies.
Very soon, the Café Procope became one of the most important places in the city and was frequented by the most famous people, from La Fontaine, Voltaire, Napoleon, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Paul Verlaine, but also by Robespierre, Danton and Jean-Paul Marat. One legend says that Diderot chose this venue as the location for writing some of the articles of his Encyclopédie and that Benjamin Franklin prepared his «project of alliance between Louis XVI and the newborn republic» there, as a commemorative plaque testifies, laying down the foundations for the future United States constitution.
Les Deux Magots
“Magot” in French means “statuette of the Far East”. An unusual name for a café, if it weren’t for the fact that these premises were previously occupied by a draper’s shop specializing in silk, a typical oriental product. Its sign, which shows two of these statuettes, has remained unchanged in all these years.
Since 1884 Les Deux Magots has been welcoming Parisians, including the most famous personalities such as Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé who used to frequent the café for the absinthe. The café has remained a reference point even in the last few decades, also becoming a hangout for the surrealists under the guidance of André Breton. These intellectuals, in 1933, instituted a literary prize which carried the same name as the café itself.
Tradition is taken very seriously at Les Deux Magots. Just think that the family that runs it has always been the same, ever since 1914! Tradition is also evident in one particular preparation, the hot chocolate, which is still prepared “in the old-fashioned way”, ie. starting from the bar of chocolate.