A Place to Be Alone, with Others

by Janet Hulstrand

When people ask me what they should be sure to do while they’re in Paris, I always say the same thing: “Just be sure you leave some time to simply wander—walk, sit in a park or café, and take some time to just watch the world go by.”

I say this even if the person asking me is only going to be in Paris for a day or two. It seems to me to be even more important if you only have a little bit of time in Paris to have this very Parisian, and most wonderful experience—that is, to take the time to do “nothing” and just enjoy the beauty and the inherent interest of the world surrounding you.

The French have a word for this kind of thing: flâner is the verb, and it is variously translated. Most often it is translated as “to stroll,” with secondary definitions including to lounge, dawdle, wander, or loiter. Harriet Welty Rochefort, in her book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French, has a chapter called “Hanging Out Without Feeling Guilty.” It seems to me that this is the best way to describe what it means to flâner that I have ever heard.

Each summer, I assign the American students in my literature class in Paris to find a café that looks sympa to them, and then to spend at least half an hour there. (“Longer is better,” I say.) I tell them they don’t have to order more than a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine if they don’t want to, or can’t afford to. Then they are to spend at least some of their time there writing about what they see, hear, observe, or think about. I give them this assignment fairly early in their month-long stay in Paris because I want them to know that this is something they can do in Paris even if they are there on a very tight budget. And I want them to understand through personal experience that it is indeed one of the most wonderful things Paris has to offer them—and everyone.

Watching the world go by. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

That is, to have a place to go where you can be alone with your thoughts, but surrounded by the interesting display of humanity around you. A place where you can take the time to relax—read, write, think, and watch the passing parade. Perhaps most importantly of all, to not be hurried away by anyone, but to feel truly welcome.

A café doesn’t have to be old in order to be a very pleasant place to pass the time, but sometimes that is part of the charm. My own favorite café in Paris is the Café Bullier, on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Avenue de l’Observatoire. This café has been there for a long time: Hemingway referred to it in A Moveable Feast (as the “Bal Bullier”). When I sit in the Café Bullier, I like to find a seat from which I can look across the boulevard to the Closeries des Lilas, now famous as one of the cafés in which Hemingway liked to work. But what I like most about the Café Bullier is the warm accueil I always experience when I am there, whether I’ve come for a leisurely cup of coffee or glass of wine, or a meal. (The service is always both professional and friendly, and the food is always good too.)

Because of my love for Parisian cafés, as well as cafés elsewhere in France, I avoid going to Starbucks when I am in France. I have nothing against Starbucks in general, but I do feel like there are plenty of Starbucks in the world, and that when in France, it’s better to support local, independently owned cafés.

After all, they have played such an important social function for such a long time—and to me, this being able to be both alone and surrounded by people, to do your work in peace and calm, and to not feel rushed about leaving is truly one of the greatest things about Paris.

Of course one of the reasons Parisian café owners are able to allow us this wonderful luxury is that there are so many of them—so many cafés, so many tables, so much space in which to do this. There is not the need to “turn tables” as there is in other places that are both more crowded and—let’s face it—more mercenary.

But Parisian café owners have to be able to earn a living too. So shouldn’t we all be helping them do that?

Because Paris just wouldn’t be the same without them.

JANET HULSTRAND is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher who divides her time between France and the United States. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and she writes frequently for Bonjour Paris, France Today, France Revisited, as well as for her blog Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road.

Le Quartier Montorgueil: A Village of Cafés

by Amy Thomas

Author Amy Thomas kicks off our series, “My Favorite Café Is…” with this tour of the Montorgueil District.

There was at least one time in my life that felt like I was living a Hollywood script: when the in-house recruiter of my New York-based ad agency strolled into my office to ask what I thought of Paris. Fast forward six months, and I was living the dream—I had gotten transferred to Paris.

I chose my apartment in the second arrondissement for its proximity to Rue Montorgueil, a delightful pedestrian street that is chock-a-block with marchés, fromageries, fleuristes, patisseries, chocolatiers and other temples of food and drink. Naturally, the classic French cafés were plentiful—about a dozen alone on “my” little stretch of the street.

Before long, I had my own routine and favorite spots. I was going to les vernissages (gallery openings) on Thursday evenings. To le marché bio (organic shop) on Boulevard Raspail on Sunday mornings. Getting warm baguettes from the boulangerie on my way home from work during the week. And wholeheartedly embracing the café culture any old day:

Mardi, 7h45: Café du Centre
A French lesson with my tutor before work. I found I learned more when I had a pain au chocolat and café crème to inspire me.

Courtesy of Cafe du Centre

Mercredi, 20h: Le Café
A hot date with une salade de chèvre chaud. Is there anything better than solo dining? Anything better than café salads, served with baskets of crusty baguette? In a word, non.

Courtesy of lafourchette.com

Jeudi, 19h: Lézard Café
Not ready to climb the six flights up to my apartment just yet. Oh, look, a table au terrasse. Don’t mind if I do.

Courtesy of Lezard Café

Vendredi, 22h: Le Compas
A late dinner and carafe du vin after my American friend and I got in a cheesy blockbuster at the Cinéma Les Halles. Croques and burgers—the perfect Franco-American finale.

Photo: Edith de Belleville

Dimanche, 16h: Au Rocher de Cancale
After a weekend of flaneuring, Velib’ing, and other favorite Parisian activities, a moment with a book and a chocolat chaud. I really was living the dream.

Courtesy of Au Rocher de Cancale

Each of these spots had their own personalities, of course. And I frequented cafés beyond my own happy universe, of course, of course. Because the cafés are everywhere in Paris. They’re such an important part of life. The stained walls. The dark woods. Those irresistible bistro chairs.

Passing time at a Parisian café is an everyday luxury. They don’t rush you, don’t shame you, they never disappoint you. Instead, they invite you in and make you feel part of the very history and culture that seduced you. Let’s hope it stays that way.


©Lisa Anselmo

Café du Centre
57 rue Montorgueil, 01 42 33 20 40

Most cafes in Paris have been there for generations, or at least feel that way. This one is a little newer; it’s airy and bright from two walls of windows and has a jam-packed terrace.

Le Café
62 Rue Tiquetonne, 01 40 39 08 00
“Funky” isn’t exactly a word associated with the French, much less a French café but with its dangling globes, shelves of antiques and other unexpected charms, that’s exactly what Le Café is.

Lézard Café
32 Rue Étienne Marcel, 01 42 33 22 73
Lézard serves a relatively varied menu for a café (pasta, duck, prime rib (!)), but more often than not, the young Bobos thronging the giant terrace are there to drink.

Le Compas
62 Rue Montorgueil, 01 42 33 94 73
A fabulous corner location, a boisterous clientele, an excellent late evening option.

Au Rocher de Cancale
78 Rue Montorgueil, 01 42 33 50 29
A classic. While the interior is actually non-descript, the building and café have been around since 1848, giving it a well-worn, cozy vibe. Of all things, don’t miss the beautiful façade.

AMY THOMAS is the author of three books including Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (And Dark Chocolate) and its follow-up, Brooklyn In Love. For two lucky years, she got to call Paris home. She now resides in Brooklyn as a freelance writer, covering food, travel, and parenting.


Have a café you love? Tell us about it and we may profile it, or include it in our site’s upcoming café guide. From upscale haunts to the local dive—we love them all! More info here. Nominate here.

Edith’s Café Spotlight: Les Deux Magots

Parisian storyteller, historian, and licensed tour guide Edith de Belleville shares the history behind her favorite places around Paris to sip a coffee or glass of wine and watch Paris go by. We’re launching the series with the venerable Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
[La v
ersion française ci-dessous.]

There are cafés in Paris where you can’t just do whatever you want. There are rules. Les Deux Magots is one of these. But do not be put off by this. As soon as you pass through the majestic revolving door of this mythical café, you’ll understand what I mean. You are now in the hallowed halls of the Parisian Intelligensia.

On the wall are black and white photographs of the famous artists and writers who came before, and sat in the same comfortable banquettes where you are now sitting: Ernest Hemingway with Janet Flanner; the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire; the Argentinian writer Jorge-Luis Borges; the Parisian feminist Simone de Beauvoir; Pablo Picasso with his talented and beautiful muse, Dora Maar. And let’s not forget the wry poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, or Antoine de Saint-Exupery—author of the most-read book in the world (after the Bible): The Little Prince. Yes, the literati used to sip their coffee here.

©Edith de Belleville

So now you understand why, in this café, c’est interdit (it’s forbidden) to stare at your smartphone, posting photos to Instagram. Non. Instead, read a book or newspaper, have an philosophical discussion with your well-read friend (chosen especially for this moment), or jot something in your journal (even if it’s just your shopping list). And if you must be on your computer, be sure it’s to write your masterpiece. Because the goal here is to look like an intellectual Parisian from the Left Bank.

Okay, so maybe these are just my rules, but why not take advantage of the atmosphere of this historic place to broaden your mind? Me, I come to Les Deux Magots when I need to stimulate my brain. And when the elegant, amiable waiter brings me my favorite old fashioned hot chocolate, I feel immediately more brilliant.

Whatta view: The Abbey of Saint-Germain-des Prés ©Edith de Belleville

There is just one difficult dilemma that I must solve each time I come here: A table outside or inside? Inside, you can admire the two glorious Asian statutes who gave this iconic café its name. These ancient beauties have been holding court over the many VIPs who have come through the door since 1884. But outside, there is the magnificent view. From the terrace, you can admire the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des Prés, the only example of Romanesque architecture in Paris, which boasts the oldest bell tower in the city. It’s a happy problem to have to solve.

Admittedly, the price of my stylish hot chocolate was not particularly cheap. But from time to time, one must be willing to invest a bit more in his or her intelligence. —Edith de Belleville

  • Where? 6 Place Saint-Germain, Paris 6th arr.
  • When? 7 :30am – 1am, 7 days
  • How to get there? Métro Saint-Germain-des-Prés, line 4
  • What to drink? Coffee: 4.80 euros; hot chocolate: 8.50 euros (like liquid pudding; it’s worth every centime)
  • What to eat? The Hemingway Breakfast: 26 euros for a copious meal—includes fried eggs with bacon or ham (or omelet of your choice), fresh-baked bread served with creamery butter and homemade jam, a choice of hot beverage plus fresh-squeezed fruit juice, yogurt or fruit salad; for any time of day: the classic Croque Monsieur with mixed salad (13.50 euros)

Don’t miss Edith’s cafe recommendations. Sign up for our newsletter on the sidebar menu on the homepage

EDITH DE BELLEVILLE is a licensed tour guide in Paris, and the author of Belles et Rebelles, à l’ombre des Grandes Parisiennes (Éditions Erick Bonnier) available in French at Fnac.fr Amazon.fr and Amazon.ca


©Edith de Belleville

Il a des cafés à Paris où vous ne pouvez pas faire ce que vous voulez. Il y a des règles. Le café Les Deux Magots est l’un de ces endroits. Dès que vous pousserez la majestueuse porte battante en bois de ce café mythique vous comprendrez ce que je veux dire. Vous êtes dans un des berceaux de l’Intelligentsia parisienne.

Elle ne comprend pas mes regles ! ©Edith de Belleville

Sur le mur il y a des photographies en noir et blanc des artistes et écrivains célèbres qui se sont assis sur les confortables banquettes avant vous : Ernest Hemingway avec Janet Flanner ; le poète français Guillaume Apollinaire ; l’écrivain argentin Jorge-Luis Borges ; la parisienne et féministe Simone de Beauvoir et Pablo Picasso avec sa belle et talentueuse muse, Dora Maar. Et je ne vous parle même pas d’Oscar Wilde ni d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, auteur du livre le plus lu au monde ( après la Bible ) le petit prince. Tous ceux qui ont fait la littérature ont siroté leur café ici.

Maintenant vous comprenez pourquoi dans ce café vous ne regardez pas l’écran de votre téléphone, vous n’utilisez-pas votre ordinateur et vous ne téléphonez pas. En réalité ce sont mes propres règles. Mais pourquoi ne pas profiter de cette atmosphère littéraire légendaire pour nourrir votre esprit? A la place lisez un roman ou un journal, ayez une discussion artistique avec l’ami cultivé que vous aurez choisi pour vous accompagner ou écrivez ( écrire votre liste de courses à Paris fera l’affaire ). Le but est d’avoir l’air d’un intellectuel parisien de la Rive Gauche.

©Edith de Belleville

Je viens ici à chaque fois que j’ai besoin d’une stimulation cérébrale. Quand l’élégant et sympathique serveur m’apporte mon chocolat chaud à l’ancienne, je sens immédiatement que je deviens brillante.

Mais à chaque fois je dois faire un choix cornélien : A l’intérieur ou à l’extérieur ? A l’intérieur, vous pouvez admirer les grandes et antiques statues des deux asiatiques qui regardent défiler les VIP depuis 1884 et qui ont donné le nom à ce lieu iconique. Dehors, il y a la vue magnifique. De la terrasse vous pouvez admirer la superbe église romane de Saint-Germain-des-Prés qui possède le clocher le plus ancien de Paris.

Bon d’accord, le prix de mon chocolat chaud stylé n’était pas particulièrement bon marché. Mais de temps en temps il faut savoir être prêt à investir et payer un petit peu plus pour se sentir intelligent. —Edith de Belleville

  • Où ? 6, place Saint Germain, 75006 Paris
  • Quand ? 7h30 à 1h, tous les jours
  • Comment y aller ? Métro Saint-Germain-des-Prés, ligne 4
  • Que boire ? Café : 4,80 euros ; chocolat chaud à l’ancienne : 8,50 euros
  • Que manger ? Le Petit Déjeuner Hemingway : 26 euros (pour un petit-déjeuner copieux) Œufs sur le plat au bacon ou au jambon, (ou omelette nature, au jambon, au fromage ou mixte), accompagnés d’une tartine avec beurre de Poitou-Charentes, boisson chaude au choix renouvelable une fois, jus de fruits presses, yoghourt nature ou salade de fruits ; Le Croque Monsieur avec une salade mixte : 13.50 euros.

Guide-conférencière à Paris, EDITH DE BELLEVILLE est également l’auteure de Belles et Rebelles, à l’ombre des Grandes Parisiennes ( Éditions Erick Bonnier ) un livre disponible à la Fnac.fr Amazon.fr et Amazon.ca.

Rester au courant avec Edith et ses cafés preferés ! Abonnez-vous à notre newsletter, ici.

Introducing Edith de Bellevilles’s Café Series

Parisian storyteller and licensed tour guide, Edith de Belleville

[Trouvez ci-dessous la version française]
Parisian storyteller Edith de Belleville spends a lot of time in cafés, bistros, and brasseries around Paris. A licensed tour guide, Edith is our go-to for the history of Paris, and notably its cafés. She has her favorites, but also discovers new cafés all the time as she bides her time between tours. We’ve asked Edith to share her picks with us—and you can be sure there’s a story in each.

In this upcoming series, Edith will showcase some classic places full of history, and some new and notable places worth a try. Make no mistake; these are not restaurant reviews. You’re going to be taken on a unique journey through time as only Edith de Belleville can do.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Edith’s favorite places around Paris to sip a coffee or glass of wine and watch Paris go by.

Don’t miss Edith’s cafe recommendations. Sign up for our newsletter on the sidebar menu or on the homepage

Edith de Belleville is an attorney and licensed tour guide in Paris. She is also the author of Belles et Rebelles, à l’ombre des Grandes Parisiennes (Éditions Erick Bonnier) available in French at Fnac.fr Amazon.fr and Amazon.ca


Photo: Edith de Bellevillle

Il était une fois à Paris…Edith a toujours aimé raconter des histoires sur la ville qui l’a vue naître. 

Quand elle n’est pas en train de faire découvrir sa ville adorée, Edith est attablée à la terrasse d’un café. Nous lui avons donc demandé de nous raconter ses cafés préférés, les anciens comme les nouveaux. Et même si c’est un fait bien connu que la Française ne grossit pas, Edith a bien voulu nous dévoiler aussi les bistros et les brasseries de Paris qu’elle affectionne particulièrement quand elle a (un peu ) faim. Siroter un café ou un verre de vin tout en regardant Paris et les Parisiens, c’est sa Vie Parisienne qu’elle vous fera partager. Restez branché dans les semaines qui suivent et Edith vous fera découvrir  les histoires  qui se cachent  derrière les cafés connus ou inconnus.

Avocate et guide-conférencière à Paris, Edith de Belleville est également l’auteure de Belles et Rebelles, à l’ombre des Grandes Parisiennes ( Éditions Erick Bonnier ) un livre disponible à la Fnac.fr Amazon.fr et Amazon.ca

Rester au courant avec Edith et ses cafés préferés ! Abonnez-vous à notre newsletter, ici.


Welcome to Save the Paris Café

(Our First) Letter from the Editor

Hello, readers!

Well, we are officially launched. C’est parti, as they say: here we go! For those hundred or so of you who have already subscribed during our beta stage, what can we say but, “merci!” And, if you’re just finding us now: bienvenue. Welcome, friends.

Who are we? We are an ever-growing group of French and expat collaborators, all lovers of café life in Paris, who will be extolling the wonders of the Paris café, and sharing the latest café news. For more on that, and why we do what we do, go here.

Photo: Edith de Belleville

What will you find in our pages? In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing articles from, and interviews with, notable locals, writers and authors, restaurateurs, and other residents sharing their stories  and backstories about their favorites cafés, café trends and news, and café culture in Paris. We’ll highlight new cafés, local favorites, cafés in danger, and more. Meet our team, and our growing list of extraordinary contributors.

We hope you’ll come along with us as we grow and evolve, and celebrate the Paris café. In a globalized world, where trends come and go at a breakneck pace, and local color can become whitewashed by commercialism and gentrification, Save the Paris Café is here to remind us that we can’t take for granted the unique and wonderful gems that make Paris shine, like her cafés and the diverse communities they  serve.

Enjoy the read, and join our café cause. Your table awaits.

Lisa Anselmo
Founding and Editorial Director

Lisa Anselmo at La Grappe d’Or, in the Montorgueil district. Photo: Geoffrey Guillin

Want to write for us, or contribute a photo or video? Here’s how.
Nominate your favorite cafe.
Alert us of a café closure.

Cover image: Edith de Belleville

Vive la vie de flâneur