Story and photography by Richard Nahem
I’m not sure exactly when Le Nemours became my favorite café but I think it’s when I moved here in 2005. Before that it was Café de Flore, when Saint Germain des Pres was my go-to neighborhood when I first started visiting Paris in the late 1970s.
I think part of the reason why I like Les Nemours so much is because it’s the gateway to my favorite place in Paris, the Palais Royal. Beyond the terrace of Le Nemours is a hidden world not known to most tourists, with magical gardens and almost infinity rows of symmetrically planted trees plus limestone passageways with mosaic tile floors inhabited by the chicest fashion and vintage shops in Paris.
Le Nemours sits on a plaza behind the Louvre, Place Colette, named after the infamous author Colette, who lived in the Palais Royal in the 1950s.
I had to do some preliminary research for this article, so, on a warm summer morning at about 11a.m., I planted myself on a French café chair of white rattan with a pattern of pale blue squares on the terrace of Le Nemours. My immediate view to my left was the Palais Royal Métro kiosk designed by artist Jean Michel Othoniel in 2000, a whimsical kaleidoscope made of gorgeous colored Murano glass spheres and brushed aluminum. On my right were the handsome limestone columns of La Comédie Francaise, a theater institution steeped in history from the time of France’s greatest playwright, Molière. What better view can one have at a Parisian café?
Waiters still wear the classic uniform of a black vest and pants, white shirt, and a starched white apron rolled at the waist, hanging down about mid-calf. I ordered a café noisette and a few moments later the waiter placed my coffee on the table with a glass of water. The coffee was typical Paris café coffee, at best on the lower scale of mediocre but that’s not the point. In case you didn’t know, it’s not about the actual coffee at French cafés; it’s about the ambience and the experience.
While slowly sipping my noisette, I perused the crowd. It was unusually crowded for that time of the day considering the off hour—too early for lunch and too late for a morning croissant. It was an odd potpourri of businessmen in close-fitting summer suits; tourists wearing shorts, tank tops, and sandals having a late breakfast probably because of their jet lag; a punk-like couple looking hung over, donning all black with partially shaved heads and maroon-colored Doc Marten boots; a middle aged Parisian women in casual chic. Any student studying sociology could have written a graduate thesis by just observing.
It then suddenly dawned on me that there’s an unwritten democracy at a French café: Anyone can sit at a table as long as you can afford a mere 2.50€ for a noisette; no one will bother you.
Upon leaving, I stood up and took one last look at the bold gold letters spelling L-E-N-E-M-O-U-R-S, the tall columns with elegant lanterns hanging in between, and the white and pearl gray striped awnings, all which again confirmed why Le Nemours is my favorite Paris café.
One last thing: a little movie trivia. Does anyone remember the opening scene from The Tourist, a silly, trifle of a film from 2010? It’s a shot of Angelina Jolie sitting at Le Nemours, while Johnny Depp is spying on her.
Le Nemours, Galerie de Nemours, 2 Place Colette, 1st arr.
All photos this page: ©Richard Nahem
RICHARD NAHEM is the creator of the popular blog Eye Prefer Paris, with three weekly posts about art, history, fashion, food, shopping, architecture, and restaurant reviews. He also writes about Paris and European travel and his articles and photos have appeared in The Guardian, Romantic Paris, Passport Magazine, Travel Agent Central, Luxury Travel Advisor, France Today Magazine, and Bonjour Paris. He recently edited the National Geographic Walking Tours of Paris Guidebook. Richard also leads private insider tours of Paris via Eye Prefer Paris Tours, showing clients the Paris they never usually see on their own.