Paris Plus: Les Cafes

WHO CAN EVER GET ENOUGH of Paris? I can’t, and even though I landed with a thud back on U.S. soil two weeks ago, I’m grateful for the 600+ photos I took as reference and remembrance. In fact, I have so many leftovers, even after my exhaustive blogging, and I know there are so many Paris-o-philes out there, that I’ve decided to compile some of the extra images into a series of themed posts under the rubric Paris Plus — and that’s pronounced Paree Ploo, no ‘S’ sounds whatsoever.

Les Cafes will be followed by Le Shopping, Les Jardins, Les Maisons Vielles, and whatever else I can come up with.

The cafes of Paris are open all day and maybe into the evening (they have a full bar), but they seem to empty out past 5PM or so. Cafes serve things like salads, sandwiches, and omelettes, which won’t do for dinner in France. Dinner calls for an actual restaurant, which start serving at 8PM, and then you can’t get a salad or omelette to save your life.

This post documents most of the cafes where my cousin Suan and I sought sustenance in midday. The weather, happily, was good enough for us to be able to eat outside in true Parisian fashion. All the cafes below are highly recommended, more for ambience than startling food, though the food is more than fine. Reservations not required. Next trip, maybe I’ll figure out the difference between a cafe and a brasserie.

Above and top, La Palette, 43 Rue de Seine, 6th arr., so named for its interior, decorated with vintage artists’ palettes. It’s on a relatively quiet back-street in St. Germain-des-Pres. We saw it on Day 1 and it was so floriferous, and the patrons looked like they were having such a good time, that we resolved to get back there, and just made it in the last hour before having to leave for the airport on Day 7. The salad was unremarkable, the bread phenomenal.

One morning, we went to Le Rouquet, 188 Blvd St Germain, 7th arr. Go not for the food (the croissants were better elsewhere), but for the astonishing intact ’50s decor and lighting.

I pray this place is landmarked or otherwise protected. Note the original coat rack, left, and rounded telephone booth (I looked inside; it’s become a broom closet).

Surely some movie with Jean-Paul Belmondo was shot here.

This is Au Reve, 89 Rue Caulaincourt, 18th arr. in Montmarte, where we enjoyed cafe au laits for the equivalent of $5 each, later realizing we made the clueless American mistake of sitting at a table. Had we sat at the bar instead, we would have paid less. But from here we could fully appreciate the way the red napkins were placed in a diamond pattern on the black tabletops, one fork neatly centered on each.

In case y’all were wondering where we found lunch in Giverny, the petite Normandy village where Monet’s home and garden are located, the answer is at La Musadiere, billed as a creperie and saladerie (doesn’t New York need a place called Saladerie?) The outdoor terrace overlooking rural hills could not have been pleasanter.

A few more shots of La Coupole, 102 Boulevard Montparnasse, 14th arr., actually a brasserie, with an elaborate menu, including triple-decker raw seafood towers, of note for its original Art Deco interior. Some modern-day Chagall has painted the interior domes, which seems inappropriate from a historic POV, but our friend Pascal, a French architect, seemed to like the fact that the place wasn’t entirely stuck in period. Full of high-spirited Parisians enjoying a long, lingering lunch.

Cafe de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arr., is an institution with a literary pedigree, and I don’t suppose there’s a guidebook that doesn’t mention it or a tourist who doesn’t know about it. Nevertheless, plenty of locals seemed to be there, meeting, greeting, boozing, and shmoozing. It was a very wet day, so much of the action was inside, though it’s the sidewalk life of Paris cafes that most distinguishes them from the relatively anemic sidewalk cafes here in New York City. The difference seems to be size. Here, cafes are allowed perhaps 10-15′ of sidewalk space, whereas in Paris they may occupy an entire sidewalk, 30′ or 40′ wide on a major boulevard, with pedestrians granted a small corridor to walk through. Somehow it works. All of Paris somehow seems to work. Works for me, anyway.

Next year in Paris!

To see all my Paris posts, click here.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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7 Responses to Paris Plus: Les Cafes

  1. Fran says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve been to some already and you’re the second person to recommend Cafe de Flore in 2 days… Looking forward to trying it in September. Here ‘s what I found in Dining in Paris for Dummies regarding the difference between Cafe/Brasserie and Bistro. I was also wondering about this with a friend just yesterday…

    The typical bistro offers hearty dishes in a intimate atmosphere. Think crush of elbows and the sounds of corks popping, glasses clinking, multitudes of conversations, and people having a good time. Bistros are where Parisians come to dine most often.
    Literally, the word brasserie means “brewery.” Most brasseries are large, cheerful, brightly lit places that open early and close late, and have an immense selection of dishes on the menu. At brasseries, you can usually get a meal at any time of day, even in hours when restaurants and bistros are closed, and the food is relatively inexpensive.
    Cafes serve drinks and food all day from a short menu that often includes salads, sandwiches, steak, mussels, and French fries. Prime locations or famous literary cafes carry higher price tags. Parisians use cafes the way the British use pubs — as extensions of their living rooms. They’re places where you meet friends before heading to the movies or a party, read your newspaper, write in your journal, or just hang out and people watch.

  2. cara says:

    Excellent, Fran! Thank you for that. I had no idea dummies could be so smart! I’m going to make study of bistros next time around. I think we may have gone to a couple unaware;-) Does the book say what the difference is between a bistro and a restaurant? Oh… there’s another one you should try to get to (a cafe, I believe) near Cirque D’Hiver… it’s called Le Clown Bar, it’s a century old, and has amazing circus-themed decor. I didn’t get there this time but remember it fondly from 14 years ago. I will *never* let 14 years elapse between Paris trips again!

  3. Cara, love your photos. La Palette, La Coupole, old favorites. If u want to know a great definition of all french restaurants, bistrots, brasseries and cafes, look no further the either Julia Child, My Life in France i think, or Patricia Wells with her 25 years old but still updated regularily wonderful guide to The Bistrots of Paris.. i think its still called that.. a perfect guide to the city of lights! I also love the best macarons at Rue Bonaparte by Pierre Herme, but its not a sit down cafe, just take out and has the BESTR croissants in Paris. Laos check out for all the best in food in Paris!

  4. sorry: typos. Also and Best! and love Clown Bar and yes! 14 years is a crime against Paris. I visited every year for the last 35 years and it hasn’t changed so much! Astonishingly! Cafe de Flore is mentioned in Hemingway A Feast For Life, which is still also a great book to read.And it was Sartre’s and Simone de Beauvoir’s fav cafe near their apartments as well..and Yves St Laurent”s etc…xxx

  5. Nancy says:

    OK now I really have to go back to Paris!! My mouth is watering. Nice pics!

  6. cara says:

    We actually met David Lebovitz, my cousin and I, at a spa in Mexico a few years back, before he moved to Paris… I knew he was living and blogging there, but we just didn’t have time to do it all. Which is why I say je reviens!!

  7. gap916 says:

    What a great post. On my bucket list.

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