Category Archives: Paris Cafés

5 Café Deco Trends We’re Over Already

by Lisa Anselmo

If someone were to say “Paris café style” to you, it would probably conjure up some immediate images: bentwood chairs, globe lights, wood paneling, maybe even a zinc bar. There’s a classic look to a café. A tad cliché, maybe, but it has stood the test of time, and somehow never looks dated, much like the American diner.

But even Paris cafés go through a relooking—makeover—every decade or so. Usually the changes stay somewhat within the vernacular: a new awning, a redux of their rattan Maison Gatti chairs, signage redesign. Mostly, it’s a much-needed refresh, yet it still feels Parisian: stylish, but not too trendy.

A Belle Epoque café captured by Ilya Repin in 1875. Wikimedia Commons

THE NEW DESIGN MOTTO: CONFORM OR PERISH

But we’re in a Pinterest world now, where design decisions are crowd-sourced. It’s not about creating a unique look based on your brand identity; it’s about fitting in. With cafés struggling to stay in business, they’re not just renovating, they are actually duplicating each other in a scramble to stay on the map. If one changes their red awning to blue, so does the next one down the street. Aided and inspired by social media, trends sweep the city from quartier to quartier like a contagion, stamping out the authentic and replacing it with the Instagram-able.

“Tropical Chic.” One of the hot trends on Pinterest right now that’s sweeping Paris cafés. Courtesy of Pinterest.

If you’re trying to attract customers, put that money into a good chef and better coffee, and keep the café as is.

Sure, you can argue that there’s a sameness to classic café style, but at least it’s timeless and uniquely Parisian, instead of this soulless caricature of Brooklyn that’s (super)imposing itself on the city. Everyone is conforming to the exact trends, churning them out with zero interpretation: the same industrial furniture, the same cold color palate, the same minimalist feel—like hipster McDonalds franchises—so the look is already played out, even before the paint is dry on that relooking.

GOOD DESIGN IS ETERNAL; BAD DESIGN IS FORGETTABLE

No one is saying modern is bad. We’re talking about bad choices. When you design anything based solely on the trend of the day, you risk a result that might not resonate longterm. It’s just bad business. Cafés spend a lot to renovate—money they can ill afford in this economy—and it’s heartbreaking when they choose styles that will look dated in a year, especially after they’ve gutted their original 100-year-old interior to do it, one that still looked perfectly on brand, and would have for years to come.

Designer Matthew Waldman is famous for saying “the future should not look like the past.” You could add that it also shouldn’t look like the fleeting moment. If you must modernize, think about how your makeover design will look in five years’ time. If it won’t hold up like your current interior, scrap your plan. At the end of the day, if you’re trying to attract customers, put that same money into a good chef and better coffee, and keep the café as is.

Behold, the top 5 trends in café deco that we’re over already:

1: THE NAKED EDISON BULB

An obligatory element in any café makeover. A cool look…5 years ago. It’s a café, not a lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Put a lampshade on that thing; you’re burning our retinas.

And speaking of lampshades…

2: THE GIANT WICKER LAMPSHADE

The first time we saw this it seemed sort of design-y, but after the 50th café, Paris is starting to look more like a cheap beach resort. Baskets are for bread.

3: THE METAL STOOL

About as comfortable as sitting on a barbed wire fence, mais non? We’re assuming you don’t want us stay long. Even more fun for your fanny after that thing has been baking in the hot sun all day. Youch!

4: THE TINY TERRACE TABLE

Oh, sweetie, no. Do you really expect two people to eat at this flimsy little thing? There are limits to how far to take a trend. You may have reached it.

5: THE TROPICAL WALLPAPER

Giant palm fronds, pink flamingos—it’s so oddly specific, and so woefully out of place. Yet there it is, hopping from café to café, like a conga line. Even my local has gone Copa Cabana bananas.

My local. With basket lampshades for the full Tropicana effect. Babalu aye!

Top photo: Courtesy of Croco, formerly Café Cassis. Ironically, the idea for Save the Paris Café was born in the defuct Cassis. Croco is an entirely tropical-themed café…except for the food (though it’s pretty decent). But go figure.

Is anyone doing these trends right? Check out Mon Coco, at 6 Place de la Republique. The decor is more thoughtfully done: classic bentwood chairs are paired with the “Brooklyn-style” industrial table; a whimsical straw chandelier (instead of the ubiquitous basket lamp) hangs over a plush blue velvet booth; instead of tropical wallpaper, a mural by a street artist nods to the area’s gritty vibe. It makes a unique statement because it’s an extension of who they are, vs. what’s trendy, so it has a far better chance of holding up as time goes by.

Which Paris café has your favorite interior design? Let us know!

LISA ANSELMO is a writer, branding expert, speaker, and coach, and has worked at such iconic magazine brands as Allure, InStyle, and People. She is the author of My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), and has been featured in New York magazine, Travel and Leisure, Bustle, House Hunters International, Expatriates Magazine among others.
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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.

Return to the Saint-Régis

by Janice MacLeod

September in Paris is called “la rentrée“—or “the return.” It’s a return from a month-long vacation most Parisians take over August, as well as a return to school. September is like January in other places—when we launch it, enroll in it, and begin it. Having a long vacation seems to do what vacations are designed to do—first relax us, then reinvigorate us for the year ahead.

Photo: Janice MacLeod from her book, A Paris Year

Early in the mornings of September, I walk to the Saint-Régis Café on Île Saint-Louis—the island in the middle of the Seine and of Paris. I sit among the bronzed locals who are revisiting projects previously abandoned for the beach. We sit together in silence, staring at our screens or notepads. One gentleman is refining a menu, another is writing an essay, another is working out math problems, which doesn’t seem like a romantic notion until you see his numbers. They are so ornate that I want to frame the page. As for me, I sit with my journal and work out the next quarter—articles to be written, correspondence to organize, chapters to complete, and of course, dreams to pursue. It’s a full but quiet room. The most conversation you’ll get is a friendly nod of recognition. It’s like a library but with clinking glasses and a buzzing espresso machine. As the brunch crowd filters in, we filter out.

I saunter down the main street of this small island town and do some window-shopping. The French call this “lèche-vitrines,” or window licking, which is exactly what you want to do at the chocolatier, boulangerie, and at Berthillon—the ice-cream shop. I end my stroll at the tip of the island. Here, the river splits, giving you the illusion that you are steering your own ship, which is, I suppose how September itself feels. Summer is gone and you’re happy about it, delighted to get back to work.

As I turn to go, I notice the tops of the trees have begun to turn yellow. A new season has begun and I could not be more pleased. Let it begin!

Café Saint-Régis, 6 rue Jean du Bellay, 4th arr., 01.43.54.59.41

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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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
Visit her Etsy shop
Like her Facebook page

Editor’s Note: Café TournBride has a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for earning consistently high reviews.

Edith’s Café Spotlight: Le Castiglione

[Trouvez ci-dessous la version française]
There are cafés in Paris where the mere sound of the name evokes an emotion before you’ve even taken a sip of your coffee. On a cold, rainy Sunday morning in May, I was desperately searching for an open café when I stumbled upon Le Castiglione just near the chic place Vendôme. Since I didn’t want to go broke for the price of a coffee, I decided to drink mine at the bar, which is usually less expensive. Comfortably seated at one of the plush red velvet stools, I mused about the name of the café. Castiglione, of course, takes its name from the nearby street, rue de Castiglione, which was named in honor of the battle won by a then young and dashing Napoléon during his military campaign in Italy.

But there is another Castiglione. Not the name of the besieged city this time, but of a beautiful, young Italian woman. Bonaparte may have won Castiglione the city in the name of France, but Castiglione, the woman, won Napoléon in the name of her own homeland, Italy. This was during the second empire of Napoléon III, nephew of the first Napoléon. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione was much adored by all the men of Paris, and vanquished the heart of Napoléon III. Many say her influence over the emperor helped establish the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Such was the power of her beauty.

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, by Pierson

Like Narcissus, Castiglione was likewise obsessed with her own beauty, and had many hundreds of portraits taken of herself in various costumes and scenarios by court photographers Mayer and Pierson, photos which still survive today. But her beauty lost its own battle with time, and she lost her joie de vivre as a result. She would only go out at night, afraid people might recognize her, and veiled all her mirrors in black, so she would not have to witness her fading beauty and advancing age. She ended her years in a lonely basement apartment with her many dogs at 26 Place Vendôme, succumbing to madness in the end. Outward beauty is nothing it seems without inner beauty—that is to say a minimum of culture, an appreciation of the deeper things of life.

That brings to mind a third Castiglione: Balthazar Castiglione. He codified the “beauty inside/out” principle, and it was he who wrote the guide of the perfect gentleman, a bestseller in Europe in the 16th Century. He even had his portrait painted by Rafael, the artist whose many Madonnas defined beauty for the era.

This elegant café, awash in red, is the ideal place to think about the importance of beauty in your life. And speaking of the perfect gentlemen, Thierry my waiter is the real thing. Everything here is a notch above; there is even a “Happy Coffee Hour” where, if you take your coffee at the bar before noon, you’ll pay only 1.60 euros instead of 1.80 euros.

As I sipped my coffee, I was suddenly seized by a desire to say hello to Mr. Balthazar Castiglione. So, I quickly paid and dashed under the raindrops towards the Louvre museum, where his Raphael portrait hangs. Café Castiglione must be like a magic filter through which beauty shines and draws you in, because one minute I’m sipping an ordinary coffee, and the next, I’m strolling in one of the biggest museums in the world, surrounded by the most beautiful art in the world. That’s one special café! —Edith de Belleville

  • Where? 235 Rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arr.
  • When? Open 7 days; 7am-11 :30pm
  • How to go? Métro Tuileries, Concorde line 1 or 12
  • When? from 7 to 2 oclock in the morning
  • What do drink/what to eat? Happy Coffee Hour: Coffee before noon at the bar is only 1.60 euros. View the menu. 

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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


VERSION FRANÇAISE

Il y a des cafés à Paris dont le nom seul vous donne déjà à réfléchir avant même d’avoir bu votre café. Un dimanche en mai alors qu’il pleuvait et qu’il faisait froid comme en hiver, je cherchais  désespérément un café encore ouvert. Le café Castiglione se trouve juste au coin de la chic place Vendôme. Ne voulant pas me ruiner pour un café,  je décidai donc de m’installer au comptoir. Assise confortablement sur mon tabouret recouvert de velours rouge, je me mis alors à rêver au nom de ce café. Castiglione, bien sûr, c’est le nom de la rue juste à coté. La rue Castiglione fut baptisée en l’honneur de la bataille gagnée par Napoléon Bonaparte lors de sa campagne militaire d’Italie quand il était jeune et beau.

Mais il y a une autre Castiglione. Elle est également italienne et ce n’est pas le nom d’une ville assiégée mais d’une femme jeune et belle dont le corps sculptural faisait fantasmer tous les mâles de Paris. Bonaparte a conquis la ville de Castiglione mais la Castiglione elle, a conquis Napoléon au nom de sa patrie, l’Italie.

C’était au temps du second Empire et l’empereur c’était Napoléon III, le neveu de Napoléon premier. Comme Narcisse, Virginia di Castiglione était folle de son corps et s’est fait prendre en photo des centaines de fois. Et puis elle a perdu sa bataille et s’est avouée vaincu quand sa beauté s’est flétrie. Elle est devenue vieille, pauvre et abandonné de tous. Enfin, abandonnée des humains car elle fini sa vie dans un soupirail avec ses nombreux chiens au 26 place Vendôme. Elle ne sortait que la nuit de peur qu’on la reconnaisse. Elle a recouvert tous ses miroirs d’un voile noir pour ne plus se voir. Elle est devenue véritablement folle. La beauté extérieure c’est bien mais cela n’est rien si on n’a pas aussi la beauté intérieure c’est à dire un minimum de culture.

Balthazar Castiglione par Raffael. Balthazar Castiglione by Raffael.

Ce café rouge et élégant est vraiment  le lieu idéal pour rêver de l’importance de la beauté dans votre vie. Thierry qui tient le bar lui aussi est un vrai gentleman. Il y a même un « happy coffee hour » et vous paierez seulement 1,60 euros votre café au bar au lieu de 1,80 euros si vous le buvez avant midi. Mais comment sont les toilettes me direz-vous ? Elle sont à l’image de ce café chic et elles ne vous décevront pas.

Et tout d’un coup un troisième Castiglione me vient à l’esprit: Balthazar Castiglione. Il fut le premier à codifier le principe “être beau à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur”. Castiglione a écrit le manuel du parfait gentleman et son livre est devenu un best seller au XVIème siècle dans toute l’Europe. Le peintre Rafael a même fait son portrait.

Et si j’allais dire bonjour à Monsieur Castiglione ? Sitôt mon café bu, d’un pas alerte et sous la pluie, je me dirige vers le musée du Louvre pour admirer le tableau de Rafael. La vie a Paris est vraiment extraordinaire. Le café ici est un philtre magique. Grâce à un simple café, vous vous retrouvez à déambuler dans le plus grand musée du monde. C’est ça l’effet fantastique des cafés de Paris !
—Edith de Belleville

  • Où ? 235, rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris
  • Quand ? 7 jours sur 7 ; 12h00 à 23h30 (petit-déjeuner : 7h à 11h30)
  • Comment y aller ? Métro Tuileries, Concorde line 1 or 12
  • Que manger, que boire ? Happy Coffee Hour : 1,60 euros votre café au bar avant midi. Voir la carte

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

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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.