Café de Flore
What exactly do cafés mean to the French? It is not just a place where exchanges are made between food and money. The complacency of the waiters, the placement of French faces around small tables, and their cigarettes—smoke lingering through the air then brought down to be crushed moments later with a few swivels of their fingers. The café is where we can observe the French in their natural habitat. To them, they are in their living room, talking loudly and quickly, as if they owned their small sections and proceeding areas. But more so, the café is a nexus of intelligence. Between the exchange of dollar for nutrition, ideas are circulated and thoughts are pronounced. Parisian literary history has always included the café as the hub that drew writers in like mosquitoes to light, darting wildly around that light with words and ink. One of the trademarks of Parisian cafés known for becoming a kind of nouveau salon for writers is the Café de Flore.
History and the Faces of the Past
The Café de Flore, located in the 6th arrondisment of Paris in St. Germain-Des-Prés, debuted during the Third Republic in 1887. Around 1913, Apollinaire and his group of Surrealist friends that included André Breton and Aragon, frequented this café and set down their Surrealist Manifesto here. During the German Occupation from 1939-1945, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir began to make the Flore their office. Paul Boubal bought the Flore and had installed the big stove that still remains today in the middle of the room. This stove invited writers into the Flore as if they were in their own home. At this time, existentialism became the dominating force in French theory and thinking. From 1945 to 1950, Paul Boubal created the Pouilly Club de France named after the café’s famous white wine. The members are impressive and include Arthur Koestler, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Lawrence Durrell.
The Flore of Modern Times
In an article from the New York Times dated 2006, Sofia Coppola was interviewed in regards to her relationship with Paris during the time she was filming Marie Antoinette. The screenwriter and director listed the Café de Flore as her place of choice for production meetings. This perhaps may tell you the new types of clientele that frequent the Flore. The artists of our time, the famous, the celebrities, the creative intellectuals that wish to follow in the footsteps of Sartre and Beauvoir. The assortment of people are varied, with groups of fashionable women toting their Birkin bags, the tourists, the youth, and the locals aged and nostalgic holding onto what the Flore used to be. Though comparing photos of the Flore decades ago to modern times, nothing really has changed except for the fashion. The atmosphere, the energetic flow of conversations, and the mythology of the Flore mark it as an institution of Parisian culture.
I chose this café because when I first came to Paris with my mother as a child, we stayed on Rue du Bac and St. Germain-des-Prés, a few streets from this trésor. My mother loved the place for their espresso, and I for their apple tart. But coming back to the Flore now, I feel a certain kind of reverie and bask in its history that fuses with contemporary Parisian culture. The Café de Flore becomes in a sense a dialectical landmark of the past and present all at once, complete with the warm stove and the sound of pens running on paper.