Picasso’s Paris: 10 Historic Hotspots of the Paris Literati

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock.com

Paris is rich in its layers of history, but few eras can compare to the explosion of creativity that centered in Montparnasse in the 1920’s. Get ready to retrace the stomping grounds of the greatest minds of the 20th century: Gertrude Stein’s studio on rue de Fleurus, Picasso’s favorite cafes, and the watering holes where Fitzgerald and Hemingway drank away their demons. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, a walking literary tour of famous bohemian neighborhoods gives the journey an even richer meaning.

10. Café de Flore

Today, the City of Lights is a much different landscape that it was during Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which chronicled his days in Paris in the 1920s. Although Paris is now layered with modern buildings, many historic relics remain, including the Café de Flore. Many American expats were drawn to Paris, a city known for fostering a community of artists, writers, and intellectuals. One of the old haunts of the Lost Generation was this iconic café just around the corner from Les Deux Magots on Boulevard Saint-German. While Paris may no longer be a place for starving artists to survive, the café is a cherished relic of the old days that will get you in the mood with its original art décor and red seating. The Café de Flore has been inspiring legendary talents since it opened in the 1880s during the French Third Republic.

Café de Flore Paris

9. Harry’s New York Bar

Inspired by a love of Paris, one of the most dedicated American expats, Tod Sloan, had a New York bar dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic to 5 rue Daunou. Established in 1911, the popular watering hole was renamed Harry’s New York Bar when legendary Scottish bartender Harry MacElhone bought it in the 1920s. Harry might be long gone, but the Parisian spirit and French traditions still runs deep. Stop in for a drink and reminisce of the days when Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would meet up to talk for hours on existentialism and philosophy. Celebrities like Coco Chanel and Humphrey Bogart were also drawn here for the trendy cocktails that Harry was mixing up. According to legend, Harry’s New York Bar is also the birthplace of classic drinks like the Bloody Mary and French 75. With its old school ambiance, it’s an American oasis in Paris.

Photo by: Irwinopolis
Photo by: Irwinopolis

8. Shakespeare and Company

Since it opened in 1951, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore has been a favorite English-language bookshop in Paris, especially among American expats. In fact, it was a hangout for a young James Joyce before he became one of the most revered authors in Ireland. When Sylvia Beach opened the original shop in 1919, other famed luminaries followed, including Hemingway, TS Eliot, and Gertrude Stein among others. Then in the early 50s, the American entrepreneur and adventurer George Whitman opened the next generation of expat bookstores at 37 rue de la Bucherie. Since then, it has served as a meeting place for the literati of the Beat writers—Allen Ginsberg, Anais Nin, and Henry Miller were all regulars in the early days of the bookstore. Now run by his daughter Sylvia Whitman, not much has changed since it was established in the 50s.

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock.com
Elena Dijour / Shutterstock.com

7. La Coupole

Situated in the former Lost Generation neighborhood of Montparnasse, La Coupole is a historic relic of 1920s Art Deco and still going strong as a Parisian institution. One of the most famous brasseries in France, the interior is impressive, including 33 pillars covered in Cubist paintings, all which are listed in the Registry of historic monuments. The giant café has a history of attracting star-studded clientele since it was established in 1927. It was at this very spot that Jean-Paul Sartre would have long writing and drinking sessions at his regular table, number 149. When he was a nobody, a bespectacled, shabby Henry Miller nursed his hangovers at the bar with a French continental breakfast consisting of coffee, croissant, and a cigarette. Matisse and Joyce were also known to sit elbow to elbow, drinking heavily to find their inspiration. Under the original façade, enjoy a French style coffee while honing the art of conversation.

Photo by: Timeout
Photo by: Timeout

6. La Closerie des Lilas

A few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens is La Closerie des Lilas, the historic Parisian café where Hemingway wrote most of The Sun Also Rises. In the 1920s, Montparnasse was the neighborhood where the starving artists lived, worked, and drank, mostly because the cafes and apartments in the area were all they could afford. In fact, most flats and studios at the time didn’t having a toilet or running water. But when the likes of Man Ray, Fitzgerald and Picasso starting because famous and successful, Montparnasse changed along with them. Today, the neighborhood is trendy but expensive, and although La Closerie des Lilas goes to great lengths to maintain its original façade and interior design, the prices are definitely inflated. This is due to the popularity of the old legends surrounding the piano bar, the plaque commemorating Hemingway, and a traditional French brasserie. For American expats, the café still evokes the rich literary traditions of Paris.

Photo by: 123 Terrasse
Photo by: 123 Terrasse

5. Gertrude Stein’s Studio

As the woman who coined the term Lost Generation in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein was at the center of one of the most prolific and inspired cultural movements of the 20th century. What started as a literary salon at her 27 rue de Fleurus studio evolved into collaboration and influence that would come to define modernism in art and literature. Emerging artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse were regular guests as Stein helped foster their careers by becoming one of their first major collectors. Writers like Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound would also make appearances at the Saturday evening meetings. Situated on the western side of the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement, the studio contains a plaque commemorating her life and historic apartment, one of the first museums of modern art.

"Plaque Gertrude Stein, 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris 6" by Wikimedia Commons / Mu - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Plaque Gertrude Stein, 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris 6” by Wikimedia Commons / MuOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

4. Les Deux Magots

When the Lost Generation made the rounds, they would regularly stop in Les Deux Magots if they happened to be on the left bank at the boulevard of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.With its rival Café de Flore across the way, Les Deux Magots was the spot Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre split up both their leisure time and writing sessions on existentialism. Today, the café still retains its original glory when it opened in 1885, complete with career garcons in black jackets serving delicious French pastries, Parisian coffee, and its famous shop-made hot chocolate served in a classy porcelain jug. Stop in for a café and croissant on the terrace overlooking the church Saint-Germain-des-Pres and contemplate life like all the brilliant minds did generations before you. Although it is popular with artists and intellectuals, it cultivates its strong tradition as a literary café.

"Lesdeuxmagots" by Roboppy at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Pline using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
Lesdeuxmagots” by Roboppy at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Pline using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

3. La Rotonde

Serving as a popular hangout for artists, writers, and intellectuals since 1911, La Rotonde is one of the most historic and beloved cafes in Paris. Literary luminaries especially favored it, including Hemingway, who mentions the café in The Sun Also Rises. The Jake Barnes character says affectionately of the spot, “No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.” In the 20s, the café was the old haunt of Picasso, Eric Satie, Man Ray, and a legion of American expats like Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Today, it’s still a great spot to try traditional French cuisine like foie gras, French onion soup, and les escargots. According to legend, a young and broke Picasso would spend hours working on sketches that he would trade for food and drink.

kavalenkava volha / Shutterstock.com
kavalenkava volha / Shutterstock.com

2. Place de la Contrescarpe

Spreading out onto both sides of the busy market street rue Mouffetard, Place de la Contrescarpe is an ancient Parisian street that has gone through dramatic changes over the centuries. In the 19th century, it was a working-class district and home to Balzac and Victor Hugo. In fact, meandering down the streets, you might recognize the 15th century Church of Saint Medard and the foot of the Mouffetard food market from Hugo’s Les Miserables. It was also the neighborhood of Hemingway’s first home at No. 74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine and a source of inspiration. His character Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro speaks of Place de la Contrescarpe with nostalgia: “There never was another part of Paris that he loved like that, the sprawling trees, the old white plastered houses painted brown…” Although the neighborhood is mostly gentrified, the plain apartment building still remains and with a plaque commemorating the famous author.

Photo by: XYZ
Photo by: XYZ

1. Galignani Book Store

Like many beloved cities of the Old World, Paris has its share of historic gems, including the Librarie Galignani, an English-language bookshop that dates back to 1801. Today it stands at rue de Rivoli 224 where it was relocated in 1856. Still retaining the original massive façade, the shop is considered one of the most elegant bookstores in the city and the oldest on the continent. It has always been a favorite among the ex-pat literary crowd, particularly in the 1920s when Hemingway and Fitzgerald made their reading rounds. Run by six generations of the Galignani family, the shop is a treasure trove of precious collections as well as an impressively large fine arts section. You’ll also find 50,000 titles in history, politics, and fiction on the old mahogany shelves that were installed in the 1930s.


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