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As spring arrives, the capital’s famed sidewalk café culture comes to life. Gleefully basking in the sun on a pavement terrace, there is nothing more Parisian than taking your time, espresso-in-hand, in your favourite café. To sample this essential slice of traditional French life, just sit back, relax, sip at your “crème” and prepare to enjoy the most cherished Parisian pastime – admiring the moveable feast…

The stardom of a Parisian café on Champs-Elysées. Picture courtesy of Kalin Petrov

The stardom of a Parisian café on Champs-Elysées. Picture courtesy of Kalin Petrov

The meaning:                   café = cafe 

The history:                      

“The café counter is people’s parliament”, Balzac said once and he is no less correct today. The city’s throbbing heart, a center of social and culinary life, Paris cafés have been around for centuries, the oldest one still operating at 13, Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie (”Café Procope”, founded in 1686). A relaxation spot, a neighbourhood hub or a gossip matrix, this is the place to put your finger on the pulse of the city.

A night café. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A night café. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The philosophy:

The Parisian café is where you need to go should you want to exchange ideas, get familiar with local politics or, simply, “reinvent the world”. Once the agora for discussing Rousseau’s and Voltaire’s forbidden works, those revolutionary hives were the boardrooms where the attack on the Tuileries was planned. In the beginning of the 20th century, the world’s future was being staked between 2 glasses of absinthe in the French cafés. Later on, French presidents used them as an arena to celebrate their victories. Today, the space in Parisian cafés is no less scarce and the individual distance between you and your neighbor – no less insufficient. And yet, there will always be enough space for common people, presidents and anarchists to each find their proper place in the minuscule society of a Parisian café.

"At the café" - Edouard Manet's take on the Parisian café.

“At the café” – Edouard Manet’s take on the Parisian café.

The menu:                        

Feeling “lost in translation” with your French menu already? Here are a few classical suggestions to opt for. Get a “café crème” to ease your morning rush, a savory “croque monsieur” or a sweet “tarte Tatin” to perk up your afternoon break and a “kir royal” to saunter away your evening…

Wondering begins...

Wondering begins…

The variety:                      

If you have a thing for historical settings, try your luck in Café de La Paix[1]. A renowned Parisian institution declared a historic site by the French government in 1975, this café welcomed Georges Clemenceau during the victory celebrations commemorating the end of WWI.


Café de la Paix, a Parisian institution. Picture courtesy of http://www.cafedelapaix.fr/

For a coffee with a literary flavour, make your choice between Les Deux Magots[2] and Café de Flore[3], where the likes of Hemingway, Camus, Sartre and de Beauvoir used to rub shoulders while questioning the world.

Les Deux Magots. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Les Deux Magots. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Should you fancy something more trendy and hip, go for Comptoir Général and you will get so much more than a regular café. A cinema, a library, a restaurant, a curiosity cabinet, a souk, a ghostly hotel lobby, a garden, a classroom, and – last but not least – a café – are all waiting for you there. Take your pick at 80, Quai de Jemmapes.

Le comptoir General

Le comptoir General

The curious fact:

The respected Montparnasse haunt “La Closerie des Lilas” has tables named after memorable former regulars, such as Oscar Wilde, Paul Cézanne, Emile Zola, Paul Verlaine and others.

Not to be missed:          

For leaving your footprint in Paris’ “coffee and discussions” scene, try the hip Rue Oberkampf, the bohemian Canal Saint-Martin or the romantic Rue Mouffetard – all very different in spirit, but bursting with splendid opportunities for that perfect afternoon/night out…

Rue Mouffetard, Paris. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rue Mouffetard, Paris. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

[1] Address : 12, Boulevard des Capucines

[2] Address : 6, place St Germain des Pres

[3] Address: 172, Boulevard Saint-Germain