My Top 5 Literary Paris Cafes: Closerie des Lilas


Intrigued by the literary life of 1920’s Paris?   I can send you on a Cafe A Day scavenger hunt — it’s a side of Paris most travelers miss, but you shouldn’t!  Email me for more info!

 In 1922,  an elated James Joyce stepped out of Shakespeare & Co, and headed straight for Closerie des Lilas, a Paris cafe known to double as his office!  He needed to celebrate – Sylvia Beach (the owner of Shakespeare & Co, which was still at its original location in the 6th Arr) had just agreed to publish his controversial Ulysses!

Today, you can trace the steps of Joyce and other literary greats,  by visiting their storied Paris cafes.   Oscar Wilde lived, and later died, in room 16 at L’Hotel.  Hemingway frequented many Paris cafes, leaving his hunting rifle to hang today  alongside the  Red Hot sign at Harrys on Rue Daunou.  Marcel Proust consumed jugs of beer under the “belle époque”-tiled decor of Brasserie Lipp.

Here’s Stop #1 (of 4) on my literary Paris cafe tour:   Closerie des Lilas!

It’s not hard to find this Paris cafe, on a prominent Montparnasse corner….

But it IS hard to leave.  The tunes of the charming jazz pianist float into the dusky leather-adorned bar, where dark wooden tables have small brass plaques engraved with the names of famous patrons.

If you want to sit in Hemingway’s spot, go to the middle of the bar and look for this:

A glass of wine is about 10 €, and is a perfect compliment for the foie gras and toasts,  but the classic Paris café drink is the Kir Royale, a not-quite-sweet and very refreshing champagne with a dash of cassis, or blackberry.
Order one, then sit back and soak in the literary lore.

This Paris café started as a mere stopover on the carriage road from Fontainbleu into the city.   Over time, it drew a true mix of money-ed Parisians, straight from the nearby Bullier ball,  and penniless artists from Apollinarie to Cezanne.    

The roof over the courtyard retracted, and writers would gather to share ideas as well as dances “en plein air”. 
With prohibition going strong in the US, ex-pats from Fitzgerald to Miller found a home at Closerie des Lilas in the ‘20s,  and for the next century, this Paris café saw the birth or surrealism and  cubism, and nurtured some of our culture’s greatest minds.
Still, today, the tradition of the Arts lives on at Closerie.  As you sit in this cozy Paris cafe, it is easy to imagine Joyce crammed into a corner, surrounded by his poet comrades, gesturing strongly over a table littered with cups and half-empty glasses,  in animated chat about politics or focused recitation of their latest prose.
Where is this Paris café: 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse

When’s best to go to this Paris café:   after you’ve toured the Pantheon (want a museum pass?  Ask me why this is good!)  or before you strike out in the Montparnasse cemetery to “visit” Baudelaire.

What’s this Paris café feel like?   Click this link:  (hit “Enter”, then “Piano Bar” on left)

If you love this romantic side of Paris, let’s talk more!  Text or call me, Melanie,  at this number, now!  (609) 923-0304.

Just for fun, here’s a sneak peak into that famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Co, on the Left Bank.  Frequented by Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and countless others, there’s still a typewriter where anyone can sit down and start their Great American Novel… a reading room on the 2nd floor.. and this piano nook!  Stay tuned for more Paris notes, coming this winter!

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