“All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” — Gertrude Stein
The Paris of young writers and intellectuals who could spend their days and nights in cafés alternating between writing and drinking was immortalised by Ernest Hemingway in “A Moveable Feast”. Gertrude Stein famously described them as “the lost generation,” embracing decadence with a hedonism that was unfathomable to the generations before them. While Paris may have changed in the years since, the cafés that were the favourite haunts of Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller and Simone de Beauvoir are still operating and can be visited by anyone seeking inspiration, people watching, or an over priced café allongé.
Le Select (brasserie). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
“Cafés are for people who want to be alone but need company for it.”
Location: 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris
Frequented by: Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Wes Anderson
In summary: Run by the third generation of the Plégat family, Le Select is more brasserie than café. It has mirrored walls, art décor tiling and waiters that manage to be both grumpy and charming, who will allow you to waste hours there in peace. It was described by historian Noel Riley Fitch as a place for “people who want to be alone but need company for it.” Henry Miller and Hemingway are said to have written there and apparently one evening, in a fit of rage, Isadora Duncan threw a saucer across the room. Rumour has it that nowadays, Wes Anderson can be spotted here on a Saturday afternoon.
Pablo Picasso at the Café de Flore. Photo by Brassai.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone du Beauvoir and Boris Vian and his wife Michelle at Café de Flore.
Café de Flore
Location: 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris
Frequented by: Oscar Wilde, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Sofia Coppola, Lawrence Durrell
In summary: Café de Flore opened its doors in 1887 and its large, tiled terrace has since been host to various writers and intellectuals. More recently it has become a haunt for fashionable and glamorous types and was named by Sofia Coppola as the preferred place for production meetings whilst filming Marie Antoinette.
Le Dôme, circa 1920
Location: 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris
Frequented by: Anaïs Nin, Man Ray, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso
In summary: Literary history would have us believe that Le Dôme is where Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin met to discuss their infatuation with “June”. Said to be one of the first meeting places for the writers of the Lost Generation, Hemingway and Ezra Pound were also regulars here. Now, Le Dôme is a seafood restaurant with a Michelin star, but photographs of its famous occupants still line the walls.
La Closerie de Lilas
La Closerie de Lilas
Location: 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris
Frequented by: Henry James, Leon Trotsky, Gertrude Stein, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
In summary: The leafy terrace of La Closerie des Lilas is surrounded by lilacs. It has housed many great moments in literature, including the first time that Hemingway read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscript of The Great Gatsby and where he wrote most of The Sun Also Rises. Although Gertrude Stein usually housed the Lost Generation in her home at 27 rue de Fleurus, there are also accounts of her spending afternoons at La Closerie des Lilas in their company.
Simone de Beauvoir at Les Deux Magots.
Les Deux Magots
Location: 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris
Frequented by: Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway
In summary: Les Deux Magots is said to be where Oscar Wilde drank after leaving England. Set on a corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain beneath a white marquee, it is easy to imagine him watching the passing crowd of Parisian philosophers and thinking “One can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Famously, it is where James Joyce went to drink Swiss white wine. It is still home to the two statues of Chinese mandarins that are the café’s namesake.