Tag Archives: Paris cafe culture

Sign the Petition to Save Les Pipos

Cliquez pour la version française

The residents of one neighborhood in Paris are fighting for their lives—the lives they’re used to in their close-knit community, a way of life that is fast disappearing. And this fight is centered around a small, unassuming bistro called Les Pipos.

Click to sign the petition to save Les Pipos.

For over 130 years, the residents of this 5th arrondissement community have gathered within these walls to share some beaux moments. Owners have come and gone, the name has changed, but the bistro itself, and the neighborhood—the Montagne Sainte Geneviève district—have not. It’s for this reason American director Woody Allen chose this Left Bank village for his film Midnight in Paris, and Les Pipos for his downtime during filming.

From the outside, Les Pipos doesn’t look like much, but as soon as you enter, you understand its appeal. The centerpiece of its cozy interior is an ornately carved bar, installed in 1946. The mosaic floor, too, dates from the Second World War. The panelling and staircase? Much older. The walls are covered in old photos, posters, and other memorabilia, marking the years—and the clients who have passed through this place.

The ornate, zinc-top bar at Les Pipos dates from the Second World War. ©Lisa Anselmo
The interior of Les Pipos dates from just after the Second World War. But some of it, like the paneling, is 100+ years old. It’s quiet at this hour, but after 6pm it comes alive. ©Lisa Anselmo

Click to sign the petition to save Les Pipos.

Though steeped in history, Les Pipos is not stuck in the past. A favorite with the locals, it’s bustling nearly every night. You need a reservation for dinner here. The impressive collection of wines draws serious connoisseurs; live music packs them in on weekends. It’s a gold mine.

But none of that matters in a city where profit is king. Gentrification and rising rents are pushing out the thriving small businesses that serve our daily needs. In their place, faceless chain stores. Our local communities are being transformed into transient commercial zones, and Paris is losing its soul.

If the landlord of Les Pipos has his way, the soul of this neighborhood in the 5th will be gone, too. Word is he wants the bistro out, maybe for a high-paying retailer, and is in negotiations with the bistro’s owner.

The clients of Les Pipos aren’t taking this lying down, and have launched a petition asking the city and UNESCO to intervene and landmark the site. It’s unclear what can be done, but the more signatures they get, the bigger case they can make. So add yours.

A detail of the ornate bar at Les Pipos. ©Lisa Anselmo

Places like Les Pipos seem eternal, untouchable. But they’re not. Nothing is sacred when cities put profit over people. Small businesses and the vital communities they serve are the casualties in this fast-grab economy, which rewards only the biggest players. Please sign to the petition to save Les Pipos—and help save local community life in Paris. A translation of the French petition is below.

Les Pipos 2, rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique, 5ème

Click to sign the petition to save Les Pipos.

English Translation of the Petition:
SAVE LES PIPOS

English Translation of the Petition:
SAVE LES PIPOS

Caught up in a juicy real estate deal, Les Pipos, one of grandfathers of the Parisian bistro, is on the verge of disappearing permanently.

In the heart of the Montagne Sainte Geneviève district, this bistro has seen since the end of the 19th Century—its artists, writers, politicians, artisans, workers, who have embodied a lifestyle that is emblematic of Parisian heritage.

Les Pipos remains a place where people from different generations and backgrounds gather. We meet here, we talk, we exchange. It’s the soul and pillar of the neighborhood for those who live here, find themselves here—and for many others, who seek out the village spirit of the area, and the lifestyle that continues here.

“Bistros are a place of sharing, mixing, which enables our city to be different from other capital cities,” rightfully said Madame Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris. It is in this spirit that we seek to preserve this last neighborhood bistro so emblematic of Parisian culture.

Thus, with the support of The Association for the Inscription to the Intangible Heritage of UNESCO of the tradition and way of life of bistros and terraces of Paris, we ask the Mayor of Paris, as well as the Ministry of Culture, to move to protect this establishment so that this gathering spot of more than a hundred years continues to be a place that brings a diverse community of Parisians together.

SIGN THE PETITION VIA THIS LINK

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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To Each His Own Café

by L. John Harris, excerpted from his new book Café French: A Flâneur’s Guide to the Language, Lore and Food of the Paris Café

I was trying to connect with my friend Leonard Pitt, the Berkeley-based author of Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey Into the Heart of Historic Paris. I wanted to know Lenny’s views of Parisian café culture then—when he lived in Paris in the 1960s—and now. He was to respond from his computer at the café in Berkeley’s French Hotel (now the SenS Hotel).

Working from my computer at the dreaded Starbucks Odéon, the setup seemed a bit surreal. Conversing with Lenny via computer at an American-based French Hotel café, and me in Paris at an American-owned chain outlet (I just cannot label Starbucks a café) gave the exchange an absurd gravitas that makes me smile to this day.

Lenny is a passionate proponent of a café-centric lifestyle he posits against the Protestant work-ethic routines of a Puritanized America. He is also passionate about the almost eternal beauty of Paris and works closely with the International Coalition for the Preservation of Paris, an organization whose mission is to resist new developments that would dwarf the incomparable and relatively low Paris skyline with a ring of giant skyscrapers around the picturesque centre of Paris—the heart of Paris that gave rise to café culture in the first place, and to the flâneurs who have strolled there ever since.

Lenny emailed me that “Nothing better symbolizes the congeniality, the rhythm and sheer joie de vivre we ache to recapture in life than the café.” Well put, Pitt! But one man’s joie de vivre is another man’s (or woman’s) morning coffee ritual, writing or art studio, afternoon or evening gathering spot for conversation and nourishment, or flâneur’s solo observation post. And often, all the above and more. The traditional Parisian café is more than the sum of its parts.

SOME OF ITS PARTS

Café napping is a bit of a stretch, but imagine cafés with cots paid for by the hour! Maybe there is a profit incentive for café owners. To my friends at Save The Paris Café, are you listening? Illustration: ©L. John Harris. Reprinted by permission.

WAKE UP (SE RÉVEILLER) AND SMELL THE COFFEE

When I go to a Paris café to wake up with a café crème, the least important criteria for me are the coffee’s origin, quality or even, I confess, taste. But at 7a.m. I don’t really care. My legs may get me to the café, but my critic’s brain is still on snooze. This particular summer I began most days at my café du coin (neighborhood café), Café Madame. There is nothing exceptional about Café Madame—they serve a typical petit déjeuner (passable coffee, acceptable croissant or buttered tartine, reasonably fresh orange juice)—except for its convenient proximity to my apartment and the Luxembourg Gardens nearby, a flaneur’s dreamscape.

WORKING (TRAVAILLER): READING (LIRE), WRITING (ÉCRIRE), SKETCHING (FAIRE DES CROQUIS)

Any café can be a working café, depending on one’s personal requirements. Kaaren Kitchell, an expat novelist, poet and blogger (Paris Play), combines her daily one-hour walk with her writing and editing projects, so her café must be at least a thirty-minute walk from home. Her other criteria include a quiet ambiance and, ergo, few tourists. “The French know how to modulate their voices,” says Kitchell.

On the other hand, expat author (Paris Par Hasard: From Bagels to Brioche), tour guide, and bon vivant Terrance Gelenter, prefers to work in crowded and noisy icons like Les Deux Magots and Café Montorgueil. Every Sunday from 11AM to 1PM, Gelenter holds “office hours” for his tour clients and visiting Anglophone writers, artists, filmmakers, and the like. It may not seem like work when you meet with him at his usual outdoor table, but he is definitely working the terrace.

CONVERSATION (PARLER, DISCUTER, LA CONVERSATION)

Where better than at a café to have a conversation? Dating back to its origins in the late 17th century, the Paris café has inhabited a middle world between public and private space where, unlike at more food-focused bistros and brasseries, spirited inter-table discourse is welcome, if not required. This “free speech movement” was not invented in Berkeley in 1964. For 18th-century dramatists and philosophers and 19th-century Impressionists who broke with the stifling constraints of the Academy, the café became a salon where artists could engage freely in debates over aesthetic issues–with the help, of course, of sufficient, if not addictive, amounts of coffee, wine and, more euphorically, absinthe and even opium. Talk about Happy Hour (pronounced app-ee ower), which these days begins in cafés as early as mid-afternoon.

WATCHING (OBSERVER) AND RESTING/NAPPING (SE REPOSER/FAIRE LA SIESTE)

The café, invented in 16th-century Istanbul, was destined for “… the eminently Parisian compromise between laziness and activity known as flânerie!” This drollery by Victorien Sardou, quoted in Edmund White’s book, The Flâneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris (Writer and the City), sums up the high regard for lounging and loafing in a bygone era before commercial productivity became Western civilization’s highest value.

As for the café’s function as an urban resting place, it is a tourist’s necessity after days filled with shopping and sight-seeing. The café’s napping function is, I admit, a conceptual stretch. And although traditional café owners accept long patron visits and minimal consumption, I don’t think they would tolerate napping. Certainly not the high-end cafés, which drive off flâneurs as early as 11 a.m. under the pretext that the tables must be set for luncheon.

À CHACUN SON CAFÉ

Summing up the functions of the Parisian café, and depending on one’s needs—whether tourist, artist, working professional, student studying for exams, mother with hungry children, or first-date flirters—the café is a home away from home, an office away from the office, a study hall, a restaurant for nourishment and celebration, a bar for drinks and flirtation, or just an observation post for thinking, dreaming, and resting. Napping is optional. À chacun son café!

© L. John Harris. Excerpted and reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Get your copy of Cafe French at Shakespeare and Company (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5ème), and The Red Wheelbarrow Bookshop (9 Rue de Médicis, 6ème), or online, here.

L. JOHN HARRIS is an artist, food writer, publisher and filmmaker working in and around Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. While attending art school at UC Berkeley Harris enlisted in the California cuisine revolution of the 1970s, clerking at the Cheese Board and waiting tables at Chez Panisse. His The Book of Garlic (1974) launched another food revolution—the garlic revolution—and his organization, Lovers of the Stinking Rose, sponsored garlic festivals all across the United States, including the legendary Gilroy Garlic Festival. In the 1980s Harris’s Aris Books published cookbooks by many of the finest Bay Area cooks and food writers, including the legendary M.F.K. Fisher. Exploring the medium of documentary film in 1990s, Harris wrote and co-produced Divine Food: One Hundred Years in the Kosher Delicatessen Trade, which was featured on PBS and at Jewish film festivals internationally. Harris’s last book, Foodoodles: From the Museum of Culinary History (2010) features over 90 of his food cartoons and a foreword by the renowned chef, Jeremiah Tower. Harris lives in Berkeley and Paris and is the curator of the Harris Guitar Collection at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Photobombed at Chez Camille, by Gabrielle Luthy

©Gabrielle Luthy

You might think his antics ruined a good shot. Just the opposite. Accidents are what make life happen. Captured at Chez Camille on Place d’Aligre, by writer Gabrielle Luthy.

Follow Gabrielle here: Web | Paris Writing Retreats | Instagram

Chez Camille, 8 Place d’Aligre, 12ème

This Chez Camille calls itself a “bar” on social media to distinguish itself from the other Camilles in Paris. But it serves food and keeps café hours, like any other. A favorite place of market vendors for taking a break during the hectic market day.

Want to submit a photo for our weekly column,
Café Photo of the Week? Click here for submission rules.
If we like it, we’ll publish it with a photo credit!
Submission does not guarantee publication. Accepted photos will run in the order they are received. When you submit a photo, you give Save the Paris Café non-exclusive rights to publish it, free of charge, on our website and in social media, in perpetuity.

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Edith’s Café Spotlight: La Tartine

[Trouvez ci-dessous la version française]
Dorothy and her suitcase are waiting for me at La Tartine. Dorothy just arrived from Seattle. Once a year she makes her pilgrimage to Paris because “Paris is my only home in the world,” she says. She didn’t have to tell me where La Tartine is, because it’s a café I’ve known forever. What is a tartine? It’s a piece of bread with a bit of butter that most French people, like me, eat for breakfast. (Don’t assume I eat croissants full of butter every morning. If I did, my clothes would not fit me anymore.)

I greet my friend with a bonjour as I arrive. “Happy to see you again!” I say. “How are you ?” I give her a kiss (faire la bise) on both cheeks. 

Bonjour, ma chérie!” Dorothy is funny; she always calls me ma chérie (my darling). “I’m very happy to be in Paris, but I’m exhausted.”

The warm interior of La Tartine ©Edith de Belleville

I laugh as I point out that we’re wearing the same exact outfit: a black dress with white polka dots.

“It’s my travel uniform when I come to Paris,” she says. Then she tells me to order what I want. “It’s my treat.”

It’s almost lunchtime, but Dorothy orders only a café-crème (coffee with milk). It’s two o’clock in the morning for her, so she’s not in the mood to eat, even though there are many different tartines on the menu: goat cheese, ham, duck. I’m in the mood for something exotic, so I choose the Scottish tartine with smoked salmon.

Everything in this café reminds the 1920s, from the gold, geometric Art Déco engravings on the wood bar, and on the wall to the old posters and the lamps that give off an amber glow.

Art Deco details at La Tartine ©Edith de Belleville

Sitting next to us, an old bearded man is writing. He closes his note book and takes a sip of his beverage, something topped with sweet whipped cream, or crème chantilly as we call it in French. It looks good. I ask what he’s drinking.

Un chocolat viennois,” he tells me, winking.

I explain that I was tempted to order one, but decided not to because the decadent Viennese hot chocolate would not go with my Scottish salmon. The gentleman agrees, nodding his head.

Our young waiter arrives with our orders, and I ask him how long the café has been around. “I like it very much.”

“Since 1924 ,” he answers with a smile. “We’re not allowed to move anything. The bar hasn’t changed since then.”

The bar at La Tartine hasn’t changed since 1924. ©Edith de Belleville

“Incredible! 1924!” I say.  “The same year as my perfume!”

I explain to Dorothy that the law forbids altering historic landmarks, like certain old buildings, even showcases of historic boutiques—and fortunately, vintage cafés like La Tartine.

I ask Dorothy if we should order dessert.

“Good idea!” She tells me to choose what I want.

But it takes me fifteen minutes to decide so I ask the waiter to help me make up my mind. Jérôme (I asked his name) recommends the homemade French toast. I tell Dorothy that in France we call French toast “pain perdu” (lost bread), because we use day-old bread in order not to waste—or “lose”—it.

Pain perdu at La Tartine. ©Edith de Belleville

Since Dorothy has to wait to check in to her hotel, we stay a long time in this charming café. The atmosphere is perfect for staying all day: no blaring TV, no radio with awful music—nothing too modern here. Just silence like in the good old days. We swap stores about what’s new in our lives since last year.

“You know, Edith, when I’m in Paris, I am reborn,” Dorothy tells me. “I become more feminine, more myself. I like everything here: the fabulous clothes of the Parisian women, the light, the smell of the food. And I really like the old cafés like this one.” Then she adds, “And this pain perdu.”

She’s right. The pain perdu (which I ate all by myself) was delicious. I thank Jérôme for his good advice, then point out that he has the same name as Napoléon’s youngest brother: Jerôme Bonaparte. (I can’t resist a teaching moment.)

But now it’s time to go; Dorothy needs to rest.  I apologize for talking too much with the waiter and the old man. “But when I’m in a café,” I say, “I like to learn about the lives of my fellow Parisians.” I thank her for inviting me to this lovely place.

“Oh you’re welcome, ma chérie!” she says. “I’m glad you chatted with the waiter. My hotel is just next door, so I know where I’ll be having my breakfast every day for the next two weeks.” She shoots me a big smile. “I’m so glad I invited you to lunch because, thanks to you, the waiter won’t treat me like a tourist. You gave me credibility here. You’re my credibility lunch date!”

I laugh, and faire la bise with Dorothy, bidding her “Au revoir.

As I walk away, I wonder if Dorothy was onto something. Maybe this could be my new career: Credibility Lunch Date for visitors to Paris. I’m available! —Edith de Belleville

  • Where? 24 Rue de Rivoli, Paris 4ème
  • When? Monday to Saturday, 8:00am-11:30pm; Sunday : 11am – 11pm
  • What to drink? Happy hour 4:00-9:00pm; Beer Pils : 4 euros; Cocktails: 5 euros; Coffee (100% arabica): 2.50 euros; Café crème: 4 euros; Hot chocolate : 4 euros; Viennese  coffee or Viennese hot chocolate: 5.50 euros; Tea: 4.50 euros; Fruit juice: 4.50 euros
  • What to eat ? A tartine with a small salad (ham, goat cheese, smoked salmon ) from 10 to 12 euros; French fries: 4 euros; Desserts: brownie, French toast, apple pie, crêpes: from 7 to 8 euros
  • How to go?  Métro Saint Paul, line 1

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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

La Tartine ©Edith de Belleville

Dorothy et sa valise m’attendent à La Tartine. Dorothy vient juste d’arriver de  Seattle. Une fois par an elle fait un pèlerinage à Paris car Paris est ma seule maison au monde dit-elle. Elle n’a pas eu besoin de me dire où se trouve La Tartine car c’est un café que je connais depuis toujours. Qu’est ce qu’une tartine? C’est un morceau de pain avec un peu de beurre que je mange, comme la plupart des Français, au petit-déjeuner. N’imaginez pas que je mange un croissant plein de beurre chaque matin. Si je faisais cela je ne pourrais plus rentrer dans mes vêtements. 

Bonjour Dorothy ! Je suis contente de te revoir. Comment vas-tu?  Bienvenue à la maison! lui dis- je tout en l’embrassant chaleureusement sur les deux joues pour lui faire la bise.

Bonjour ma chérie !  Dorothy est drôle, elle m’appelle tout le temps ma chérie. Je vais bien, très heureuse d’être à Paris mais je suis épuisée.

Regarde nous sommes habillées pareil ! lui dis-je en riant. Elle et moi portons la même robe noire à pois blancs.

C’est ma robe parisienne quand je voyage à Paris. Prends ce que tu veux c’est moi qui invite.

C’est presque l’heure du déjeuner mais Dorothy ne prend qu’un café-crème. Il est 2 heures du matin pour elle et elle n’est pas d’humeur à manger. Il y a plusieurs tartines différentes sur le menu:  Avec du fromage de chèvre, avec du jambon ou avec du canard. Comme je suis d’humeur exotique je choisis la tartine écossaise avec du saumon fumé écossais. Tout dans ce café rappelle les années 20 :  Les gravures dorées géométriques Art déco sur la bar en bois et sur le mur, les anciennes affiches et les lampes qui diffusent une lumière couleur d’ambre. Près de nous est assis un vieil homme avec une barbe qui écrit. Il ferme son cahier puis déguste sa boisson qui déborde de crème chantilly. Ça a l’air bon. Je lui demande ce qu’il boit: 

Un chocolat viennois me répond-il avec un clin d’oeil.

©Edith de Belleville

 Je lui explique que j’hésite à en prendre un. Finalement je lui dis que j’ai changé d’avis. Le chocolat chaud décadent autrichien se marie mal avec le saumon écossais. Le vieux monsieur m’approuve en faisant oui de la tête.

 —J’aime beaucoup ce café, depuis quand existe t-il? je demande au jeune serveur qui nous apporte nos commandes.

1924 me répond-il avec un sourire. Nous n’avons pas l’autorisation de bouger quoique ce soit ici. Le bar n’a pas changé vous savez.

Incroyable! 1924! La même année que mon parfum!

J’explique à Dorothy que la loi interdit de détruire le patrimoine parisien comme certains immeubles anciens, les devantures des vieilles boutiques et heureusement pour nous, les cafés vintage comme La Tartine. 

Un détail du bar. ©Edith de Belleville

 —On partage un dessert Dorothy?
Bonne idée! Choisis ce que tu veux.

Je prends quinze minutes pour décider ce que je veux. Je demande au gentil serveur de m’aider à faire mon choix. Jérôme (je lui ai demandé son prénom) me conseille de prendre le pain perdu maison. Je dis à Dorothy qu’en anglais on appelle cela le toast français mais qu’en France on l’appelle le pain perdu car on utilise le pain de la veille pour ne pas le perdre.

Dorothy doit attendre que sa chambre soit prête alors nous restons un long moment dans ce charmant café. L’ambiance est parfaite pour rester toute la journée:  pas de télé, pas de radio avec une musique horrible, rien de trop moderne ici, juste le silence comme au bon vieux temps. Nous échangeons des confidences sur ce qui est arrivé de nouveau dans nos vies depuis un an.

Tu sais Edith, quand je suis à Paris je revis. Je deviens plus féminine, plus moi-même. J’aime tout ici : Les fabuleux vêtements des Parisiennes, la lumière, l’odeur de la nourriture. Et surtout j’aime les vieux cafés comme celui-ci et ce pain perdu ajoute t-elle. 

Le pain perdu que j’ai mangé à moi à toute seule était délicieux. Je remercie Jérôme pour son choix judicieux et je lui apprend qu’il porte le même prénom que le plus jeune frère de Napoléon, Jérôme Bonaparte. C’est l’heure de partir maintenant, Dorothy doit se reposer. 

Désolée si j’ai tellement parlé à notre voisin et au serveur.  Quand je suis dans un café j’aime bien savoir comment les Parisiens vivent à Paris. Merci pour l’invitation. 

©Edith de Belleville

—Oh je t’en prie ma chérie. Au contraire, je suis contente que tu aies beaucoup parlé avec Jérôme. Mon hôtel est juste à coté de La Tartine alors je sais maintenant où je vais prendre mes petits-déjeuners chaque matin pendant deux semaines me dit -elle avec un grand sourire. Grâce à toi le serveur ne me verra pas comme une touriste. Tu es mon invitée car tu m’as aidée à obtenir de la crédibilité. Mon invitée en crédibilité. Cela valait la peine de t’inviter !

C’est peut-être une nouvelle carrière pour moi : Invitée en crédibilité pour les visiteurs à Paris je réponds en riant à Dorothy tout en l’embrassant sur les joues pour lui dire au-revoir. —Edith de Belleville

  • Où ? 24, rue de Rivoli Metro Saint-Paul ligne 1.
  • Quand ? du lundi au dimanche: 8h-23h30 ; dimanche: 11h – 23h
  • Que boire? Happy hour 16h-21h ; Beer Pils : 4 euros; Cocktails 5 euros ; Café  100% arabicca : 2,50 euros ; Café crème: 4 euros ; Chocolat chaud : 4 euros ; Café et chocolat viennois : 5,50 euros  ; Thé: 4,50 euros ; Jus de fruits : 4,50 euros
  • Que manger? Tartine avec une salade (jambon, fromage de chèvre ou saumon fumé ) de  10 à 12 euros ; Frites : 4 euros ; Désserts: brownie, pain perdu, tarte, crêpe: de 7 à 8 euros
  • Comment s’y rendre?  Métro Saint Paul, ligne 1

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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

Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Le Select, by Janice MacLeod

©Janice MacLeod

This classic café moment was captured by Janice MacLeod, and is from her book, A Paris Year. Reprinted by permission.

Follow Janice at janicemacleod.com

Le Select, 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6ème

Want to submit a photo for our weekly column,
Café Photo of the Week? Click here for submission rules.
If we like it, we’ll publish it with a photo credit!
Submission does not guarantee publication. Accepted photos will run in the order they are received. When you submit a photo, you give Save the Paris Café non-exclusive rights to publish it, free of charge, on our website and in social media, in perpetuity.

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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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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Sunday Afternoon at Café de Paris, by Peter Schlipf

©Peter Schlipf

Every picture tells a story. In this case, half a dozen. Or maybe just the one: a young woman walking across the frame, and her many admirers. Ah, Paris. Captured at Café de Paris, before its makeover.

Follow Peter on Instagram.

Cafe de Paris, 10 Rue de Buci, 6ème

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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Le P’tit-Déj, by Lisa Anselmo

©Lisa Anselmo

Breakfast at my local. Damn good coffee.

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Café Lino, 81 Boulevard de Charonne, 11ème

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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Ma Bourgogne, by Virginia Jones

©Virginia Jones

The lunch service at Ma Bourgogne, a lovely café situated on the Place des Vosges, which boasts historic painted ceilings and an enviable terrace. Captured by reader and photographer, Virginia Jones.

Find Virginia on her photography website, Blogspot, and on Instagram as @vjonesphoto

Ma Bourgogne, 19 Place des Vosges, 4ème

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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 American magazines 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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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Parisian Waiter, by Claude Corbin

©Claude Corbin

White shirt, black pants, white apron—and a perfectly balanced tray: the iconic Parisian waiter. Captured at the charming Le Square Trousseau.

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Le Square Trousseau, 1 Rue Antoine Vollon, Paris 12ème

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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
Visit her Etsy shop
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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Andy Warhol was Here, by Geoffrey Guillin

©Geoffrey Guillin

Seen on the bar at Le Pure Café, an old Campbell’s Tomato Soup can. They use it for bits and bobs. No one is sure how this old can of American soup came to be at a Paris café. Maybe Andy Warhol brought it?

Discover the universe of Geoffrey Guillin: Website | Instagram

Le Pure Café, 14 Rue Jean-Macé, 11ème

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Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Parisian Curves, by Claude Corbin

©Claude Corbin

Shot at Le Saint-Severin, early morning in the Latin Quarter, before anybody arrives and messes things up.

Find Claude on Blogspot.

Café Saint-Severin, 5 Rue Saint-Séverin, 5ème

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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.

Café Photo of the Week

Café Photo of the Week is published every Wednesday, and showcases photography from our staff, contributors, and readers.

Coffee and a Bearded Man, by Janice MacLeod

©Janice MacLeod

This sweet café moment was captured by Janice MacLeod, and is from her book, A Paris Year. Reprinted by permission.

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Submission does not guarantee publication. Accepted photos will run in the order they are received. When you submit a photo, you give Save the Paris Café non-exclusive rights to publish it, free of charge, on our website and in social media, in perpetuity.

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Introducing Café Photo of the Week

OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

If you live in Paris or have visited Paris, you’ve got them: café photos. And if you got ’em, we want ’em. Send us a Paris café photo, and if we like it, we may run it here, in our new weekly column, Café Photo of the Week, which will post every Wednesday.

We’ll accept photos of anything related to a café: full facade in context; detail shot; view from your table—any photo that tells a story, celebrates café life, or showcases the café itself is alright with us. We’ll give you credit in the post!

Editor’s privilege for the first post. Yup, this one’s mine. Think you can do better? Good! Send it along. This was taken in 2015 at Café Manfred in the 3ème, before their “relooking” as they say in French—the makeover. ©Lisa Anselmo Instagram: @Lisa_Anselmo

HOW TO SUBMIT

Send your photo by email to savethepariscafe@gmail.com, with the subject “Photo of the Week Submission.” Include your name and the name of the café, along with written permission that we have free, non-exclusive use of your photo on the Save the Paris Café website and on our social media, in perpetuity. (Oh, come on, you give away much more to social media sites every day.)

WHAT TO SUBMIT

  • YES! An original photo taken by you
  • YES! Anything that showcases and celebrates cafés, and café life
  • YES! Color or black and white
  • YES! Shape format: horizontal, square, vertical
  • YES! File format: JPG (1050 pixels wide, 72 dpi); 1M max file size (larger files will be deleted)
  • YES! A cropped and retouched photo, prepped for Web.
  • YES! Name of café
  • YES! Your name
  • YES! Your social media handle for your photos, if you have one (i.e. Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Behance, etc. No Facebook or Twitter, please)
  • YES! Title of photo, and an optional brief description or caption (35 words max)
  • YES! Written permission to use your photo on our site and social media

WHAT NOT TO SUBMIT

  • NO. A photo that is not yours
  • NO. Previously published photos (or that’s already made the rounds on social media). We prefer fresh eyes.
  • NO. Straight-up food porn (unless placed within some context of the café)
  • NO. Portraits where the café is not the star, or there is no clear context
  • NO. Blatant advertising or self-promotion
  • NO. Watermarking or branding on the photo (your work will be properly credited on the page)
  • NO. Screen shots from your other sites (source files only, please)

Send submissions to savethepariscafe@gmail.com, with the subject “Photo of the Week Submission.” Make sure submissions comply with the above rules. Due to maximal work and minimal staff, we cannot notify you if your photo runs. To receive up-to-the-minute posts, subscribe to our newsletter, or like us on Facebook. (Cheeky, yes, but really it’s the best way.)

Apero at Le Nord Sud, 18ème. This from staff photographer, Patty Sadauskas. It works because it tells a story. What’s your café story? ©Patty Sadauskas Instagram: @parisonadime @geniunefrance

RIGHTS & USAGE
Submission of your photos to Save the Paris Café gives us the non-exclusive rights to publish your photo in perpetuity on our site and our social media. You affirm that all photos submitted are taken by you and that you have the sole right to submit for publication. Save the Paris Café is not responsible for rights abuses of any photos that were not submitted as per our rights and usage rules. Photos will be run with credit. You have the right to promote your post in social media, provided you link back to the page on Save the Paris Café. We cannot notify you if your photo runs.

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Cover image: ©Lisa Anselmo; Instagram: @lisa_anselmo

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.