The Select Cafe

When walking down the Boulevard du Montparnasse, it is hard to not remember Ernest Hemingway. As one walks down the block, one passes by café after café that Hemingway famously worked at. Today, these cafes still stand, all squished together on the same boulevard block. It is almost tempting to reenact a night of drinking that Hemingway describes in one of his novels by bouncing from café to café. I chose to dine at the Select, which Hemingway mentions in A Moveable Feast as a café that he often worked at, and which the characters of The Sun Also Rises choose to visit on occasion. With the references that Hemingway makes to the Select, it is easy to see how this café has held importance in the literary history of Paris as famous Americans such as Hemingway himself chose to frequent this spot – both as a social hangout and a work hub – and as the characters of Hemingway’s novels also go to the Select under similar circumstances.

I chose to eat lunch at the Select to see the ambiance of the café now; the Select was a place Hemingway wrote about in several of his novels. In The Sun Also Rises, he alludes to the fact that this a popular café and one that many Americans are prone to go to (49). When I sat down at the Select, as far as I could tell, everyone else dining was French. The café was relatively full for 2 o’clock in the afternoon. At first, the waiter had a bit of trouble finding a table for three people. We sat on the terrace, which is closed off, at white and green wicker tables. The entire café had the same color motif. As I looked around at the tables around me, there was an array of people: some people were gathered just to share in a good meal, while others had books and papers with them and were clearly trying to work. It was easy to see why Hemingway would choose a place like this. (We somewhat jokingly noted that the first nine pages of the menu were just lists of the alcoholic beverages that the restaurant served; only the last three or four pages listed the food.) The characters of The Sun Also Rises could easily take sanctuary in the hustle and the bustle of the waiters and patrons while at the same time enjoy the intimacy of the tables. The atmosphere of the Select today appeals to both the socialite and the writer figure of Ernest Hemingway; it is a place where both types of people could easy enjoy themselves whether it be through socialization or working.

Today, the Select serves as a café for all sorts of people. One could easily choose the café for a night of drinking, or choose to settle down there for the day to enjoy a long meal accompanied with one’s work. The café has been preserved to still appeal to a wide array of patrons, however, it has lost the American/expatriate atmosphere it held for Hemingway. (The café does attempt to hold on to this with the quote “An American Café” on the awning, however, all the food is typical of French restaurants and brasseries and the patrons themselves are also French.) The Select makes no reference to the important patrons that used to be regulars nor to the literary characters that also frequented the spot. I think this is because the café is working to preserve the atmosphere it has held for years rather than exploit itself to the public. If not for the numerous references made by Hemingway and for the many other cafes in the area that Hemingway was also a regular at, the Select would be just another French café. The Select had a nice ambiance that appeals to many, however, it does not show any signs of historical importance. I think this can be attributed to the Select attempting to remain mostly untouched by the commercialization of Hemingway. Ultimately, I think the management of the Select works to preserve the atmosphere rather than exploit the café for its historical importance. I don’t think this literary significance has been forgotten, but rather, it is being preserved in a discrete manner. The significance of this café is kept only to those who know Hemingway and his characters and who can get reminisce about the atmosphere these characters craved.

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