Where to Go in Paris to Find Your Favorite Writers' Old Haunts
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” The famed author lived in the City of Light during the 1920s, and wrote some of his prized novels while embedded in the gardens and cafes of the Left Bank.
South of the River Seine, the Left Bank was and still is the site of creatives — writers, poets, artists, and philosophers have claimed this neighborhood as their own. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and countless others have lived, worked and reimagined society on its cobblestone streets. Intellects studying at the Sorbonne and modern-day bohemians can be found sipping coffee, brainstorming and creating together.
With such an influx of talent, artists and small business owners began catering to these visionaries. At a historic bookstore, writers and poets can stay as guests provided they read a book per day and help out at the shop. At a popular café, writers can enter a literary contest where the prize is free champagne for life. And just outside the University of Paris, students rub the shoe of a well-known statue to ensure success on their exams.
Marie Segura, a literature expert and Sorbonne student who works with Localers helped us discover the unique hotspots sought after by professional and aspiring writers alike.
Les Deux Magots
Once a silk vendor, this sun-drenched space became a café in the early 1900s. It quickly began catering to up-and-coming artists and authors like Albert Camus and James Joyce. The family-run business has been presenting awards to unconventional literary works every year since 1933. According to Segura, the café still holds this competition where one of the prizes is free champagne for life. Les Deux Magots traditionally attracted a bohemian crowd who were able to afford a coffee or bottle of wine. Today, it’s more of a trendy tourist spot, although local creatives can still be found tucked in its booths.
Shakespeare and Company
Arguably the most appealing book store for aspiring writers, this shop has nooks to hide away in, typewriters to put in work, authors’ portraits lining the walls — and all the novels are in English. Founded by an American with a love of travel and hospitality, the shop has become an expat staple in Paris. Writers and intellectuals can apply to stay in the store gratuitement provided they read a book per day, write a one-page autobiography and assist staff. Nearly 30,000 creatives have slept among its shelves; the space was a major stomping ground for famed Beat Writers of the 1950s and '60s.
On one of the oldest rues in Paris, and said to be the first restaurant in the city, Le Procope is a historical experience that begins with Napoleon’s hat greeting you in the entry. Originally a gentleman-only establishment, its tables have been graced by Benjamin Franklin, French writer and philosopher Voltaire and many other leaders and intellects since the 1600s. Rumor has it that nobleman and commoners would engage in heated debates, and eavesdropping patrons would leave with confidential political gossip. The brasserie has a Revolutionary feel with private rooms that double as libraries and will trigger your snooping skills.
Le Jardin du Luxembourg
You won’t make it far in Luxembourg Garden’s 55 acres without stumbling upon someone painting, sketching, reading or performing. Its tranquil grounds, which lead to the Palais du Luxembourg, have been the inspiration for famous works including Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. According to Segura, the author would frequent the lawns as a broke up-and-coming writer and claimed to be ‘fed with art’ from the adjacent museum. There are many literary connections to the gardens, but our favorites are imagining F. Scott Fitzgerald renting an apartment across from the street and Victor Hugo lounging among roses while penning the love scene in “Les Misérables.”
Although an establishment for many years, this café is less about its history and more about future literary talents. Directly adjacent to the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter, this gem offers classic bistro fare and people watching for those less interested in a tourist scene. You’ll find cases of books to dig through, but outside you’ll witness trilingual students and locals taking breaks in the sunny square. If you happen to start a conversation with a novel-clad hipster, be sure to get his or her name – you may see it in print one day.
Statue of Montaigne
If you plan to run away to Paris for adult classes or just want to create more luck in your life, follow the students to Montaigne. Just outside the main entrance of the Sorbonne, in front of a quaint urban park is a tarnished statue of Michel de Montaigne. The Frenchman was a prominent philosopher and master of essays whose work has influenced greats like Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson. While the monument is mostly worn, one shoe is a shiny gold – students rub Montaigne’s foot in superstition as they walk by, which is believed to cause top grades on their exams.
La Maison de Verlaine
For more of an eerie experience at the end of your day, stop by this restaurant named after French poet Paul Verlaine. The author once lived above the eatery where he also died of “alcoholism and misery.” His apartment was later rented by Ernest Hemingway, who also loved his cocktails and eventually committed suicide in his American residence. Find your way to the basement, which is more a cave with stone walls (very Edgar Allan Poe) and make a toast in honor of the literary ghosts.