Travel Stories

The Ultimate Café Society

Three Sacred Parisian Cafés

As you stroll down the exhilarating Boulevard Saint Germain on the Left Bank, pay your respects to the three sacred "temples" of Parisian café society near the church of Saint-German-des-Près: the Café des Deux Magots, the Café de Flor (next door), and the Brasserie Lipp (across the road).

In the 1930s, this trio of charismatic establishments became the bohemian crossroads of Europe, when successful artists like Picasso, André Breton, Salvador Dali, and Marcel Duchamp descended on them, bringing an entourage of writers, celebrities, and fashionistas in their wake. Under German occupation, the intellectual power couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir set up shop in the Flore, having been driven out of their old haunts by Nazi officers on R&R. Since the couple was living in a cheap hotel at the time, they preferred to spend all day in the café. Sartre later recorded their rigid daily working routine: writing from 9 am until Noon; lunch until 2 pm; chatting with friends until 4 pm; more writing until 8 pm; dinner until 10 pm; then, late-night business meetings in the café. "It may seem strange, all this," Sartre wrote, "but the Flore was like home to us…even when the air-raid alarm sounded, we would merely pretend to leave and then climb up to the first floor and go on working."

Today, these famous cafés are still great places to do a little philosophizing as you watch the world go by. At the Deux Magots, guests don't sit at tables so much as antique wooden writing desks, and the menu suggests that this is the "rendez-vous of the intellectual elite." The small square in front is now called the Place Sartres-Beauvoir, in honor of the passionate couple.