Not long after one arrives in Paris is it hard to notice how central the café lifestyle is to the local Parisians. It is not strictly a place to drink a morning shot of espresso or to grab a bite to eat and leave. A café can be a place to socialize, a place to work, or to simply sit and enjoy watching the passers-by. This lifestyle captures a particular Parisian charm, and it is one that has existed for a long while. There is a sense of nostalgia that surrounds the city, which one is more aware of after reading a piece of literature like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, allegedly written for the most part in a café in the 6th arrondissement, known as La Closerie des Lilas. Intrigued by the fact that he mentions it several times within the novel, I chose to visit the café as I had never been there before and I wanted to see if that sense of nostalgia still resonates somehow.
Located on the corner of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard St. Michel, La Closerie appears to keep more of a Parisian crowd while most of the tourists seem to flock around the cafés located down the street at the carrefour. Assuming this aspect has remained the same over the years, it is presumable that Hemingway favored the spot for that exact reason, for the ability to work undisturbed as its location puts it a bit out of the way. The first thing that I noticed is that although it is located on the corner, it remains partially hidden by shrubbery, which contrasts to the openness of most other Parisian cafés. The glass-enclosed outdoor area seems to have been added on based on the older pictures of the café in which the facade appears different. Not far from the café is the bronze statue of Marshal Ney whom Hemingway was obviously drawn to as he describes it in the novel. “He looked very fine, Marshal Ney in his top-boots, gesturing with his sword among the green new horse-chestnut leaves. My flat was just across the street…(37).”
As I remembered these descriptions, it helped me gain a deeper connection and to experience what I read on a more significant level. I was also interested to see if the inside of La Closerie would move me in the same way or even more, and if there was any sign of Hemingway’s mark on the place. The interior, very warm and inviting, is rich in color, with red stools lined up by the mahogany bar and pleasant, low lighting. It was interesting first to see that the tables are marked by small engraved brass plates, each with a different name of a literary figure, so it was interesting to see how much literature was a presiding influence over so many years. However, as I came mostly curious as to how Hemingway was commemorated, I asked a waiter who pointed to a spot on the bar where his name was engraved. In the menu there is also a dish that is offered which is listed as, “Le pavé de rumsteak au poivre Hemingway.”
Behind the bar, one can find a painting of young Hemingway in an army uniform from World War I, and there are also old photographs of the bar as it must have appeared during his time. This, above all, heightened the sense of nostalgia for me as I realized the the past truly resonating in every corner of the café while I was sitting there just drinking my coffee I certainly felt an authenticity to the café that gave me the feeling how little the place had changed, which can of course be applied to many other cafés around Paris as each holds its own history, La Closerie being just one of many cafés that Hemingway often graced with his presence. Regardless, however, of how much it has or has not changed, I was truly able to feel the full charm of the café lifestyle that has so strongly infused Parisian culture.