Category Archives: My Favorite Café Is…

My Favorite Café Is…La Belle Hortense

by Filly di Somma

I used to organize a literary evening at La Belle Hortense with an international writers group—a mixer for new authors where we’d discuss books and drink wine. Where better to host such an event than La Belle Hortense, because it’s not just a café; it’s a book store, too.

©Lisa Anselmo

Since 1997, this café, with its facade of electric blue, in the heart of the Marais on rue Vieille du Temple, is a literary oasis for all who pass in this trendy Paris neighborhood. On the facade is posted: Cave-Librairie-Bar Littéraire (Wine Shop-Book Shop-Literary Bar), and La Belle Hortense is all this, and more.

Every day from 17h to 2h (5pm-2am) you can stop by for a drink (there’s a good selection of French wines by the glass, or bottle), buy or browse something from their stock of beautiful novels and other books then sit, either at the bar or comfortably installed in the well-lit room at the back. The hours pass quickly in this timeless place— the sort you can only find in Paris.

The old zinc bar where you can have a glass and a read. There are tables, too. And if you’re hungry, they’ll order in from one of their cafés across the street. ©Lisa Anselmo
View toward the back room. Lots of little nooks where you can sit and read. ©Lisa Anselmo

From time to time, La Belle Hortense also offers readings associated with wine tastings . The wine producer and the author of the book are both present, and you can chat with these knowledgable people. What could be more Parisian? And if you’re hungry, you can visit, or order in from, one of their three other cafés across the street, all owned by restaurateur, Xavier Denamur: Les Philosophes, Au Petit Fer à Cheval, and L’Etoile Manquante. Xavier is a fascinating man, and has a few books of his own, which are also on sale at the café.

Books and booze happily reside together on the bar. ©Lisa Anselmo
The hostess pauses from serving her clients to stock the bookshelves. ©Lisa Anselmo

At this magical literary café you’re encouraged to consume both wine and books “without moderation,” either to stay, or to take away. But why not stay? La Belle Hortense is a beautiful combination of my two most favorite things: literature and oenology, and I highly recommend you explore it.

The eclectic selection of books, just across from the zinc-top bar. ©Lisa Anselmo
A whimsical chandelier hangs overhead while you read and sip. ©Lisa Anselmo
Detail of the back room. The building dates from the 17th Century. ©Lisa Anselmo

La Belle Hortense, 31, Rue Vieille du Temple, 4ème.
Métro: Saint Paul or Pont Marie, 01.48.04.71.60

FILLY di SOMMA is a hospitality professional who lives between Rome and Paris. She grew up in her family’s hotel business in Castellammare di Stabia, in Italy, and hospitality is in her blood. She has dedicated her career to bringing people of different cultures together via tourism, and organizes cultural events such as Paris Hospitality, Discovering Japan in Paris, Social Writing, and Paris Italian culture. Filly speaks five languages including Japanese, and is also a travel journalist, contributing regularly to Where Rome, among others. Discover her blog.

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My Favorite Café Is…Café Charlot

by Adrian Leeds

Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite café is Café Charlot on Rue de Bretagne. When it first opened, it bothered me that it was a bit more expensive than the other cafés in my neighborhood. After ignoring it for a long time, I finally gave in to its popularity, and walked in. I discovered it was way more than a café. It’s a way of life. Let me explain.

Café Charlot is owned by a restaurateur that has other cafés around town (La Favorite, Le St. Regis, for example), and like their other cafés, it looks like a New York idea of a French café, a sort of stylized retro: walls in white Métro tiles, dark wood tables and chairs, the zinc top bar, ceiling fans, indirect lighting — a sophisticated urban feel without being too stuffy.

It’s a gold mine. Café Charlot is always packed for lunch, apéro, dinner—and after. ©Lisa Anselmo

The café also behaves more like a New York restaurant than a Parisian café because the menu and approach to service is more international in style, as is the clientele. The wait staff speaks English, if not a variety of other languages, and they don’t treat you as if they are doing you a favor to wait on you. If you ask for slight changes to your order, they don’t balk; they just ask the chef if it’s possible. I’m the queen of making changes to the dish in order to satisfy my strict diet, and the chef happily goes above and beyond my request to make me not just happy, but elated. In fact, he knows I love his cooking and often rewards me with an extra special something, like a small bowl of the soupe du jour.

A typical plat du jour, but this one is customized, like the side of haricots verts. Special orders don’t upset them so you CAN have it your way. ©Lisa Anselmo

The quality of the food at Café Charlot is way beyond any other typical café I’ve ever known, and I’d put its chef up against the best bistro in the neighborhood. There is almost always at least one plat du jour apart from the usual menu, so I can have lunch there every single day and never get bored. My favorite over the years might be their lamb chops which, when they have them, are lean, tender, juicy, and ridiculously delicious. When they do beef, they do beef! You’ll get a big thick slab cooked to perfection and to go with it, you won’t want to miss their thin, crispy French fries—les frites. If you like salads, you absolutely must try their salade d’haricots verts, a mountain of crispy fresh-cooked green beans topped with a copious amount of pine nuts. The burgers are tall—beautiful totem poles of delight, impossible to eat with your hands (although I once sat next to the actor Jean Dujardin who did just that!). But, I almost never order off the menu when I can have their plat du jour. (I recently learned that my nickname among the wait staff is “Madame Plat du Jour.”)

Why order off the menu when the plat du jour is always exceptional? ©Lisa Anselmo

Café Charlot is the café of choice of many of the fashionistas who invade the neighborhood during Fashion Week. Celebrities abound, not to be “seen,” but to be circumspect. There is every sort of Parisian, part-time Parisian, and even tourists who have heard about the café, but it still feels local because everyone seems so comfortable and at home in this casual place.

I’m truly a regular at Café Charlot and take the same table whenever possible. It’s the second from the left against the back wall. From that vantage point I can see all the goings-on, of which there are plenty. People know they might find me in my usual spot, and often stop in to say hello. And after so many years of coming here, the waiters know me and treat me with tremendous care, which I love, naturally. On top of it all, the WiFi works, and what could be more perfect than its location just a block away from home? I am truly grateful for Café Charlot. It’s my office-away-from-the office and it’s become my way of life. So I pay a bit more, but it sure is worth it!

©Lisa Anselmo

Café Charlot, 38 Rue de Bretagne, 3ème arr.

ADRIAN LEEDS is a French property expert and HGTV personality. She has created a variety of businesses devoted to assisting other expats in their quest to fulfill their dream of living in France. Her company, the Adrian Leeds Group, is a licensed real estate agency offering complete property consultation services primarily for North Americans wanting to live and/or invest in France.
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My Favorite Café Is…Le Nemours

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.

Waiters at Café Nemours still wear the classic uniform of a black vest and pants, white shirt, and a long, white apron.   ©Richard Nahem
The café enjoys a prime location in the elegant Galerie de Nemours. ©Richard Nahem

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?

My view of La Comédie Française.  ©Richard Nahem
Classic rattan café chairs made by Maison Gatti, which has been making  café chairs for generations.  ©Richard Nahem
The whimsical Palais Royale-Musée du Louvre Métro kiosk by artist Jean Michel Othoniel. ©Richard Nahem

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.

The ambiance at Le Nemours. ©Richard Nahem

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.

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. ©Richard Nahem

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.

©Richard Nahem

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.

©Richard Nahem

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.

My Favorite Café Is…The Tournbride

by Janice MacLeod

In the second installment of our series, “My Favorite Café Is…” bestselling author and artist Janice MacLeod shares her perfect place with us.

For the first two years in Paris, I was like Goldilocks, traipsing all over the city in search of the best café. A place I could call my own. One café would have a cozy atmosphere but terrible coffee. Another would have great coffee but terrible food. Then I came upon the café that was just right: Café TournBride in the 5th arrondissement.

It had it all—great coffee, cozy atmosphere and delicious traditional French cuisine. Plus, it’s location on the pedestrian-friendly rue Mouffetard makes it the perfect perch for people catching. Being here makes me feel like I’m in a timeless Paris—the version you see on all those postcards. People still sit and write letters, read the paper, and catch up on the latest gossip. I often linger here with my journal—sipping, dreaming and listening to French words flutter by on the breeze.

I plan on putting in plenty of time here, and at the end of my days I’ll likely haunt it ever after. We all must find our place in this world. Here in Paris, I believe I have found mine.

Café TournBride, 104 Rue Mouffetard, Paris 5th arr., 01.43.31.42.98

Photo: Janice MacLeod, from her book, A Paris Year

Photos this page by Janice MacLeod, from her book, A Paris Year.

JANICE MacLEOD is the illustrator and author of the New York Times best-selling book Paris Letters, and her latest book, A Paris Year, part memoir / part visual journey through the streets of Paris.
Discover her world at janicemacleod.com
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Editor’s Note: Café TournBride has a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for earning consistently high reviews.

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.

AMY’S FAVORITE CAFES

©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.

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