The area surrounding Montparnasse shot to fame between the two world war, and during the so-called années folles, or crazy years, it became home to artists, writers and émigrés from all over the world.
They were attracted to the area not just by the cheap rents, but by the friendly attitude of local businesses. Many a struggling artist found a warm drink and a place to while away a few hours in one of the famous cafés that are clustered around the crossroads of the boulevard Montparnasse and the rue Vavin. Indeed, that intersection has now been renamed the Place Pablo Picasso in honour of one of the regulars.
The five most famous cafés were immortalised on canvas by Picasso—and others—as well as on paper by Ernest Hemingway. His Paris memoirs, A Moveable Feast, describe raucous drinking sessions in venues like La Closeries des Lilas and La Rotonde. Other well-known bars that are still doing business include La Rotonde, Le Couple and Le Select.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
What To Expect
If you pay a visit today, don’t expect to see any penniless artists. All of these cafés are now pretty high-end, and serve a full range of brasserie favourites as well as drinks. The service is friendly (and very efficient)—but when the waiters wear black tie, you know they’re taking it seriously. The best people-watching is available from the terraces, which spill out on to the boulevard. Dining is a more intimate experience at the Closerie des Lilas, where the tables are surrounded by greenery.
WHAT: Classic left-bank brasseries Le Select, Le Dôme, La Couple, La Rotonde and La Closerie des Lilas WHERE: boulevard Montparnasse: take line 4 to Vavin to get to the heart of the action WHEN: most are open until at least midnight and often later.