November 24, 2017

The Café Culture of Paris

Luxembourg Garden and Palace in the Latin Quarter.


Ernest Hemingway sought authenticity long before the term was coined in connection to travel. In fact, he often took up residence in the places he visited. He spent years living in Paris and later penned A Moveable Feast, which is both a memoir and a literary guidebook to that fascinating city. Lesser known but equally engaging is That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan, a Canadian author who met Hemingway when they were both young reporters working for a Toronto newspaper.

Callaghan reconnected with Hemingway in 1929 when he and his wife travelled to Paris on a much-anticipated sojourn. An up-and-coming novelist, Callaghan was eager to experience the city’s thriving café culture and meet some of the famous authors living in the Latin Quarter, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. It was during that summer that he and Hemingway spent many an afternoon honing their boxing skills at the American Club’s gym.

The café culture of Paris hasn’t changed much since Hemmingway’s day.


On my last visit to Paris I was keen to see the places described by these two writers. My husband and I were staying in a three-star hotel just a block off Luxembourg Garden, so our mornings began with a stroll past the brilliant flower beds in front of Luxembourg Palace. This elegant 17th-century palace houses the French Senate and overlooks an ornamental pond where children launch vintage toy boats.

Hemmingway lived near Luxembourg Garden on Rue Ferou.


When Hemingway first moved to Paris and was living on meager earnings from his short stories, he often had no money for lunch. So, to avoid the tantalizing aromas wafting from street cafés, he would walk instead through the beautifully manicured Luxembourg Garden. By the time Callaghan came to Paris and looked up his old newspaper friend, Hemingway was a successful novelist and living with his second wife in a fashionable apartment on rue Ferou. If you’re strolling along this cobblestoned lane, which leads from Luxembourg Garden to Place Saint-Sulpice, look for the stone lions mounted on the entrance pillars at the gated courtyard of 6 rue Ferou.

The famous Left Bank cafés referred to in the memoirs of Hemingway and Callaghan are all within walking distance of Luxembourg Garden. A block north of Place Saint-Sulpice are the famous cafés of St-Germain des Prés, where writers, artists and intellectuals of the 1920s would gather. However, we decided to try one of the restaurants on Boulevard du Montparnasse, a short walk south of Luxembourg Garden, where another cluster of iconic cafés is located.

Famous La Rotonde restaurant on Boulevard du Montparnasse.


La Coupole, Le Dome, La Rotonde and Le Select attracted the likes of Gauguin, Picasso and Hemingway to their tables. We decided to dine at Le Select because this was Callaghan’s favourite spot when he and his wife lived in Paris. Its art deco interior has been preserved and we could easily imagine Callaghan and Hemingway sitting here after their weekly boxing match, enjoying a drink and each other’s company.

One our most memorable meals in Paris was lunch at the café in Luxembourg Garden. What better place to enjoy a croque-monsieur – that classic French bistro sandwich of ham and melted cheese – than at an outdoor table in a quintessential Parisian park.

Anne Vipond About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.