Travel Stories

Americans in Paris

American Writers Flocked to the City of Light

Paris in the 1920s was a golden age for financially challenged American writers who flocked to the City of Light for the excellent exchange rate for the dollar, the liberated lifestyle, and the hottest art scene in the world. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his flamboyant wife Zelda, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and E. E. Cummings all staked a claim in the capital of Jazz Age Europe (and were joined by Irishman James Joyce, Brit George Orwell, and a bevy of Russian and Eastern European geniuses).

Hemingway in particular captured the frenzied party atmosphere after the sacrifices of World War I. The members of his so-called "Lost Generation" would hang out on the "terrasses" of boulevard cafés, listen to African-American musicians in the smoky jazz bars, and enjoy bargain meals in the louche back streets of Montparnasse. At that time, Hemingway lived as an unknown writer with his wife, Hadley, in a tiny, sunny flat (74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, near the Place de la Contrescarpe), where he recalled in later books like A Moveable Feast the classic ambiance of cheery drunkards, street urchins, hard-working flower-sellers, and prostitutes with hearts of gold. Their apartment on the top floor cost only 60 francs per month—a few American dollars at the time—and Hemingway wrote his first short stories while looking out over the poetic rooftops of the city. Of course, the writer's diet of bread and cheese was tempered by the occasional martini at the Hotel Ritz (on the Place Vendôme) with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemingway retained a lasting fondness for the place.

When Hemingway returned to Paris in 1944 as a war correspondent with the American troops, he headed straight to the Ritz to "liberate" its ancient wine cellar after the German occupation—and stayed for weeks in Room 31. In the 1950s, the hotel named the Hemingway Bar in his honor and installed a marble bust of the great writer there.