Over the years the Parisian café has been made famous by the likes of Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Sartre, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Renoir, Picasso, and more recently the movie “Amelie”. The Parisian Café seems to encapsulate all that is Paris. Nothing seems to conjure up images of Paris, and a Parisian Café, like an accordion playing cabrette musette or Edith Piaf singing one of her soulful songs that one cannot help but think of the cane backed chairs on the sidewalk outside a café while white aproned waiters bring you your coffee where you sit back and watch the world go by. It seems like the ebb and flow of Paris is caught up in the simple Parisian café.
Though there seems to be a café on every corner in Paris some of the most famous of the Parisian cafes are;
Le Procope is considered the oldest café in Paris. Founded in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli the gilt framed mirrors on wood-paneled walls has seen amongst its patrons Voltaire, Jean de La Fontaine, Denis Diderot, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, followed by the leaders of the French Revolution Danton, Marat and Robspierre, along with one of the founding fathers of the United States Benjamin Franklin, who was Americas first ambassador to France. Eventually Napoleon Bonaparte took his coffee here along with many of the great writers of the 19th century, such as Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac. It is truly an 18th century coffee house in the 21st century.
Address: 13 rue de l’Ancienne-Comedie, 6th arrondissement
Café de Flore, across the street from its rival Les Deux Magots it is the famous haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir where they held lively debates with one another as they wrote their major works amid coffee cups and full ashtrays. It has the same interior since World War II: red booths, wide mirrors and an enviable clientele. While it has become more of a tourist spot then a student and artist haunt, it still merits a visit for the ambiance.
Address: 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement
Les Deaux Magots, now more of a hangout for tourists then artists, the name refers to the two porcelain Chinese figurines, called magots in French, that adorn the exterior. Also frequented by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, it is also rumored to be the inspiration to both Ernest Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Paris themed novels. Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso also enjoyed a coffee on this café’s sunny terrace.
Address: 6 place St Germain des Pres, 6th arrondissement
Le Select is another one of the great classic Parisian cafés, which has a long list of past clients. Henry Miller, Hemingway, Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald all took their coffee on the sunny street terrace. Mosaic tiles line the floor and wicker chairs, that are the staple of most traditional Parisian cafés, grace the tables. The one noticeable difference between the cafe's Hemingway era and the current look is the lack of smoke trails swirling through the air – smoking is now banned indoors in France.
Address: 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
La Rotonde is another iconic café on the Left bank. Back when Victor Libio opened this corner café in 1911, starving artists like Picasso, Diego Rivera and Amedeo Modigliani could spend hours nursing a ten-centime cup of coffee, paying only with a drawing if they didn’t have the cash. These days, the coffee cost a bit more then ten-centime, but the café is still worth visiting for its Art Deco elegance and Old Paris feel.
Address: 105 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
Moving from the Left bank to the Right is The Café de la Paix on the Place de l’Opéra. Part of the Inter Continental Le Grand Hôtel, it was built in 1862 during the reign of Napoleon III and is one of Paris' most revered traditional cafes. Declared a historic site by the French government in 1975, this iconic café is the setting for many a painting and poem. The ornate frescoed interior and proximity to the Paris Opera Garnier make this classic look more like a museum than simple coffee shop. Loved by French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola while Oscar Wilde spent most of his time here drinking both coffee and Champagne in equal measure while he held court.
Address: 12 Boulevard des Capucines, 9th arrondissement
Finally there is the Café 2 Moulins, Café des Deux Moulins or “le bar d’Amelie” located in the Montmartre district. Though not a café from the roaring 20’s it is famous as the real life set of the 2001 French film Amelie, or “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie” starring Audrey Tautou. Be sure to sit on the café terrace and order a “crème brulee d’Amelie”
Address: 15 rue Lepic, 18th arrondissement
Also of note in Montmartre as a meeting place of artists, is around the corner from Deux Moulins, on Rue des Saules, is an old guinguette, a garden restaurant dating from the 1860’s: the Lapin Agile. Though it is not a café, the restaurant is one of the few remaining meeting places of the Bohemian art world of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Artists who were living in the Montmartre and were relatively unknown at the time, poets such as Verlaine, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire and painters such as Renoir and Picasso, gathered in this restaurant
The establishment took the name Lapin Agile, or "The Nimble Rabbit", in 1886 when Andre Gill painted a picture of a cheerful-looking rabbit, with a glass of wine in its hand and one foot in a cooking pot it has just escaped.
Address: 22 rue des Saules, 18th arrondissement
This is by all means not the end for your self-guided tour of the cafés of Paris. These cafés are just the starting point. Who knows, you could meet the next famous artist at any local café just around the corner from any of these iconic Parisian cafés.
Below is a walking map, and closest metro stops, for the above mentioned cafés. It is not necessary to walk as Le Procope (Odeon) Les Duex Magot and Café Flore (Staint-Germain-des-Pres) Le Select and La Rotonde (Vavin) are all located on the no4 metro line.
Change trains at Reaumur-Sebastopol to no3 Metro line for Café de la Paix (Opera)
Re-board the no 3 Metro line and change trains at St-Lazare no 12 Metro line. Café des Deux Moulins (Pigalle) and Lapin Agile (Lamarck-Caulaincourt)
View Iconic Paris Cafe's in a larger map