Paris’ Inspirational Cafe De Flore and Les Deux Magots
When in Paris, the quintessentially cliché and very necessary thing to do is to devote a good amount of time sitting at a café. In Paris, café culture is not just part of everyday life but is a tradition rooted in history as it was a place where the intellectuals or “enlightened”, literary and artistic minded people of society could discuss ideas freely over a coffee, glass of wine and a meal. One can only imagine the avant guard ideas discussed by Voltaire, Hugo, Sartre, Beauvoir and Zola, just to name a few, in cafes over the centuries. The cafes of Paris were and still are a perfect place for a rendez vous, conversation, to run into people and locals you might know and where you can spend hours engaging in that favourite Parisian past time of debating ideas and people watching and just being part of the urban energy and activity.
The very first café to have opened in Paris and introduce the culture of café sitting and gathering was Café Procope in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, in Paris’ legendary and chic 6th arrondissment, where patrons could come in and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea or an alcoholic beverage with some dessert or enjoy a gelato served in a porcelain cup by waiters’ adorned in peculiar outfits. Some time after the delightful and most frequented Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots opened their doors enticing Parisians and tourists to this day and compete for attention with attractive Parisian tables and rattan chairs that flood the pavement with welcoming character and with their elaborate awnings and floral facades that captivate by day and dazzle by night with magical lighting. The cafes’ of Paris have been around since the late 17th century and by the late 18th century there were nearly 2000 cafes in operation all around the city all of which were constantly busy serving locals and not so locals meals from a daily menu, coffee, teas, desserts, drinks and many sold tobacco on premise to clients as well.
Some of the very first cafes to have opened in Paris centre around Saint-Germain-des-Pres and continue to be popular choices for a rendez vous today made famous by the literary and artistic geniuses of the early 20th century such as the lost generation of writers Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, T.S Eliot, James Joyce and famous artists like Picasso. Les Deux Magots is one of those legendary cafés with its signature wagon green and white colour scheme calls to mind Paris of long ago and to this day retains its historic charm by staying true to its Belle Epoque origins. Les Deux Magots recently underwent a large scale renovation which in the process has expanded its outside dining area with an additional alfresco area or outdoor, canopied dining space to allow for more patrons to be seated comfortably.
Perhaps out of its continuous rivalry with neighbouring Café de Flore, the exterior of Les Deux Magots is known for its exaggerated theatrical appeal with a façade showing off Juliet balconies adorned with flower pots and topiary trees on its upper floor, expansive green and white awnings that stretch over the pretty café chairs and tables that wrap all around the exterior of the café. While the exterior has gone through some significant change, the interior of Les Deux Magots remains true to its original appeal with dark wood and leather banquet seating areas and pale yellow walls where two Mandarin Chinese wooden statues watch over diners, as they have done so since opening, offer a nod to the history and even to the unique name given to the café. In fact, Les Deux Magots was named in honour of an Asian novelty shop by the same name that was in the same location wbere Les Deux Magots stands today. In French magots translated to Chinese merchants or magicians and the statues that are seen inside the café are from the original Les Deux Magots shop that was kept to reference the original store before the café expanded in 1873.Café de Flore, standing almost beside Les Deux Magots separtated only by the narrow Rue Saint-Benoit, is one of Paris’ oldest cafes. Made famous by the philosophers, writers, great thinkers and celebrities that frequented this alluring café, Café de Flore continues to be as popular and the place to go to be seen. The cafe’s colour scheme mimicks that of Les Deux Magots with its vert expansive white awnings with “Café De Flore” signage in wagon green, and a leafy and flowery garden spilling from above its first level. Elegant little Paris café tables and red rattan chairs spill over the pavement and face out onto the Boulevard Saint-Germain to guarantee a perfect vantage point for people watching and to the side an additional alfresco area wraps neatly around the café where plastic covers are put up in the winter to protect diners from the cold weather. The interior of the café remains true to its historic past with red leather banquets seating and dark wooden tables and chairs organised neatly upon wooden flooring and where butter yellow walls provide a cosy ambience and support shelves displaying wine and spirit bottles and where old fashioned armours and vitrines display other café necessities. The cafe’s lovely name was inspired by a sculpture that stands on the opposite side of boulevard Saint Germain of “Flora” the Roman goddess of flowers.
When dining at either Les Deux Magots or Café De Flore you will be served and treated to outstanding old fashioned service provided by sophisticated and hospitable waiters adorned in black and white penguin like attire with aprons neatly wrapped around their waists. Café and tea will be served to you in cups with Les Deux Magots or Café De Flore signature motifs and where you will delight in some traditional, beautifully prepared and presented French cuisine and then be like a Parisian and take your time to dine, don’t worry about being rushed, and enjoy gazing at the people walking by and at all the activity around you including the charismatic waiters who seem more like theatrical performers. Both cafes offer a major literary prize or Prix de Flore and Prix des Deux Magots annually awarded at their premises to the best avant guard writer of choice as a nod to their literary past. As the Oscar Hammerstein II song goes, “The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café. The last time I saw Paris her trees were dressed for spring and lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing”. Ah Paris, the city of light and its café culture has inspired so many poets and artists for centuries, maybe just maybe you’ll be inspired by the cafés of Paris too or at least just enjoy the sweet pleasure of sipping a café or delighting in a meal with cinematic appeal.
Les Deux Magots…
Café De Flore…