My Gay Paris: Eating and Drinking in Paris, Left Bank Cafés

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the classic left-bank brasseries that line the boulevard Montparnasse. Well, they’re not the only reason you should cross the river from the Marais next time you’re here to stay if you’re looking to experience some traditional Parisian café-culture.

Slightly further north is the decidedly chic Saint Germain des Prés neighbourhood. For years, it’s been the stomping ground of France’s intellectual élite and home to many of its most famous publishing houses. A number of the city’s leading universities are also nearby in the Latin
Quarter, so-named for the lingua franca amongst students centuries ago.  Nowadays, it’s also an upscale shopping district.

The area is still centred on the place Saint-Germain, which is in turn dominated by the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church. When the abbey was founded on farmland on what was then outside the city walls back in the ninth century, it gained the name ‘des Prés’, French for ‘in the fields’.

Les Deux Magots

Fast forward a few centuries and the area was at the heart of a bustling part of central Paris. In particular, two cafés shaped the lively intellectual scene that began in the 1930s and continued after the war. Artists and writers like Sartre, Hemingway and Picasso were all regulars on the sunny terrace at Les Deux Magots during this period. The café is still serving its trademark hot chocolates, as well as coffees, wine, lunch and dinner—and doing a roaring trade.

Café de Flore

Further east along boulevard Saint-Germain is the Café de Flore, which is most well-known as the home to writers and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir during the 1940s and 1950s.

Both cafés are bastions of tradition, so you can expect to be served by waiters wearing black tie and crisp white aprons, and both offer plenty of opportunity for people-watching from the terrace. Devotees claim, however, that Les Deux Magots sneaks an edge on the Café de Flore in summer months because it catches the very first rays of sunlight in the morning.

WHAT: Café des Deux Magots and Café de Flore
WHERE: 6, place Saint-Germain-des-Prés and  172, boulevard Saint-German

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