Have you ever dreamed of living in Paris in the 1920s? The city’s bohemian literary cafés and bars attracted artists like Pablo Picasso and writers like André Breton, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry Miller, who may have shaped their masterpieces—or at least found inspiration— in these storied haunts, perhaps over some good wine.
Fortunately, Paris’s lively literary bar scene is still thriving today. Here are five chic hot spots rich with quaint ambiance, artistic pedigrees and superb wine and cocktail lists that attract celebrities, artists and tourists alike.
Steps from the Louvre, Le Fumoir beckons. The part café, restaurant and library features a well-stocked wooden bar and comfortable sofa seats that attract a stylish crowd. A key attraction is the 3,000-volume candle-lit library of new and used books, magazines and newspapers available in several languages. The exclusively organic wine menu features Michel Gendrier’s 2005 Cour-Cheverny from the Loire Valley made from Romorantin grapes ($36/bottle), Pierre Morey’s 2001 Monthélie Rouge ($11/glass), Delas’s 2008 François de Tournon from Saint-Joseph ($42/bottle) and Domaine de la Casa Blanca’s 2009 Collioure from Roussillon ($44/bottle).
This literary bar—located in the trendy neighborhood of Marais and named after the French novel by Jacques Roubaud (Kurtzman Sales Inc., 1990)—serves up a long list of fine wine and spirits, including Champagne, Côte-Rôtie (an extensive assortment from E. Guigal priced between $172–$926/bottle) and Cognac. Other attractions include the library of classic French literature and poetry, and an art gallery that features new artists’ works every 4–6 weeks. Stop by for a literary discussion, book signing or lecture and have a small bar bite, or buy the fresh organic fruit and goat cheese they sell.
Harry’s Bar, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, is legendary in more ways than one. It was supposedly the birthplace of the Bloody Mary in 1921 and also where George Gershwin reportedly composed An American in Paris. The piano bar, jazz and cabaret atmosphere made it a favorite spot for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to visit, and it’s now frequented by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood, as well as French writers and actors. Of the 56,000 cocktails served, particularly noteworthy options include the Bloody Mary, Harry’s Pick Me Up and Blue Lagoon (all $17).
With it’s café, piano bar and gourmet restaurant, La Closerie des Lilas has attracted a slew of artists and writers since it’s opening in 1847. Émile Zola, Paul Cézanne, Paul-Marie Verlaine and Oscar Wilde were said to have frequented the literary lounge. In the 1920s, Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Ernest Hemingway, and later, Henry Miller all visited this Parisian gem. And today, it still attracts the international artistes and literati—Umberto Eco, Paul Auster and Douglas Kennedy have been seen sipping at the bar, where the bartender serves Pouilly Fumé, mojitos made with Cuban rum and vodka and Cointreau cosmopolitans (all $20).
La Bellevilloise was founded in 1877 in the aftermath of the Paris Commune. As Paris’ first cooperative, owners hosted political rallies and avant-garde artists. The place features five spaces over four floors; La Halle, the main café-restaurant, is located on the first floor. It may have changed owners, but it retains its commitment to innovative artistic expression. In fact, last year the calendar of events hosted that Le Bellevilloise included 1,500 performances, 350 concerts, 35 exhibits (a mix of painting and photography) and 30 lectures and political debates. Sunday jazz brunches and weekly gourmet cheese and wine tastings also draw large crowds. The menu features wines from Côtes du Rhône and Côtes de Gascogne, among others.