Who Wins? Parisian Rival Cafés
What are your best travel memories? Does sampling the local produce and eating out dominate your travels? For some it is the food itself and its presentation that is paramount, for others it is the ambience or history surrounding the location that appeals to them. Or do you feel it is the company of your travel and dining companions that make the most lasting of travel memories? I love it best when I’m with friends eating good hearty food in a location with historical significance. And that’s why I love Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, the two famous Parisian cafés which are often included on a travellers Paris must see list.
Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots: Which of these two very famous Parisian cafés wins the prize of being your favourite? Do you wish to follow in the steps of your literary idols and relive history or do you prefer to sit back, eat and drink and watch the world go by? So a few facts on these famous cafés before you cast your vote… (yes, this is a fact filled article for those who just love details and history… me included!)
The Café de Flore is one of the oldest and the most prestigious coffeehouses in Paris. You will find it on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement and it’s well known for its famous past clientele.
The café was opened in the 1880s, during the French Third Republic. The name is taken from a sculpture of Flora, the goddess of flowers and the season of spring in Roman mythology. Authors Joris-Karl Huysmans and Remy de Gourmont were two of the first well-known regulars. In the late 19th century, Charles Maurras wrote his book ‘Au signe de Flore’ on the café’s first floor. It is also where in 1899 the journal Revue d’Action Française was founded. This journal supported the French far right political movement known as Action Française.
The cafe became a popular hub of famous writers and philosophers. Georges Bataille, Robert Desnos, Léon-Paul Fargue, Raymond Queneau were all regulars, as was Pablo Picasso. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was known to be a frequent patron of Café de Flore during his years in France in the 1920s. The classic Art Deco interior of all red seating, mahogany and mirrors hasn’t really changed since World War II.
Like its main rival (Les Deux Magots), Café de Flore has hosted most of the French intellectuals during the post-war years. In his essay “A Tale of Two Cafés” and his book Paris to the Moon, American writer Adam Gopnik mused over the possible explanations of why the Flore had become, by the late 1990s, much more fashionable and popular than Les Deux Magots, despite the fact that the latter café was associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and other famous thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s. How cool that these cafes have been rivals for so long and that essays and books have even been written about it!!
The Prix de Flore, a literary prize inaugurated by Frédéric Beigbeder in 1994, is awarded annually at the Café de Flore. Le Flore Award was established one day in May 1994 around one of the tables Flora, in order to crown a writer that displayed “promising” talent. The selection criteria is originality, modernity and youth. The jury claims to characterise themselves by its independence, its freedom and its insolence. The prize is awarded in November at a party at the Café de Flore.
Café de Flore offers a wide menu range, from teas, coffees, hot chocolates, to alcoholic drinks and juices; from snacks to full meals, including toast and croissants, omelettes, salads, soups and desserts. The nearest underground station is Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on line 4 of the Paris Métro. (For more métro and event info on Paris visit the official Paris Tourist Office website here).
The coffeehouse still remains a popular hang-out spot for celebrities and its status attracts numerous tourists, who like me, want to add visiting the cafe to their travel experiences. For the menu and website of the café click here.
© Julia161 | Dreamstime.com – Cafe Les Deux Magots, Paris Photo
Les Deux Magots café is also located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, France. It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. It is now a popular tourist destination also. Its historical reputation is derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht and the American writers, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Charles Sutherland, and Richard Wright.
The Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933.
Les Deux Magots appears in The Chariot Makers (by Steve Matchett), in which the author describes Les Deux Magots as “the first café in the quarter to be blessed by the morning sun. Its clientele pay a healthy premium for drinking there, it’s only fitting they should be the first to catch the warmth of the new day.” Have you enjoyed sitting in the sun having a coffee here?
Are you wondering about the unusual name? Well, the name originally belonged to a fabric and novelty shop at nearby 23 Rue de Buci. The shop sold silk lingerie and took its name from a popular play featuring at the time (that is the 1800s) entitled Les Deux Magots de la Chine. Its two statues represent Chinese “mandarins,” or “magicians” who gaze serenely over the room and keep an eye on things.
So this is how the cultural landmark café of Saint-Germain des Prés got its name, after these two oriental gentlemen statues. “Magot” literally means, “stocky figurine from the Far East.” In 1873 the business transferred to its current location in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés and in 1884 the business changed to a café and liquoriste while keeping the name.
Auguste Boulay bought the business in 1914, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, for 400,000 francs. The present manager, Catherine Mathivat, is his great-great-granddaughter. What a wonderful history to have the same family still operating the business.
Les Deux Magots café has similar drinks and food on offer as its rival and the nearest underground station for this café is also Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on line 4 of the Paris Métro. For the menu and website of the café click here.
Have you been to either of these two cafés? Which is your favourite of the two, or do you have another café in Paris you prefer? Share your favourite with us in the comments and tell us why you love it so much.
If you want to find out more about the Left Bank or what there is to do in this area click here. Know of anyone travelling to Paris shortly, then help them by sharing this post. Maybe you are intrigued by the famous writers who hung out at these cafés; if so, more on Hemingway here.
Thanks again for visiting a french collection and joining in the love of France… see you next time and take care… Annette xx
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