During my first trip to Paris, I stayed in a hotel right across from the Café de Flore on Saint Germain-des-Prés, one of the mythic literary cafés in Paris. The café dates to 1887 and quickly became THE literary hangout. The poet Apollinaire used it as his de facto office, writing there every day and receiving guests during set hours. He and his fellow artistes developed the idea of surrealism right here. Things only improved during World War II, when the Flore installed a furnace in the center of the room. Writers could work here in comfort, instead of shivering in garrets. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre worked there all day for the price of a cup of coffee. Imagine the free loaders they would have been with free Wi-Fi! Existentialism succeeded surrealism at the Flore. In the 50s, actors and singers, such as Boris Vian and Juliette Greco moved onto the banquettes where they rubbed shoulders with Americans like Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote. In the 60s, it was the turn of Roger Vadim and his then-wife Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, and Roman Polanski to occupy the terrasse, along with designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and Karl Lagerfeld. In the 80s, Catherine Deneuve came regularly with her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, and half of Hollywood were regulars, including Sharon Stone, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicolson, and Johnny Depp, to name but a few.
Its connections to the literary world are celebrated with an annual prize, Le Prix de Flore. Since 1994, winners have received a check for 6,100 Euros and an engraved champagne glass from which the winner can drink at will at the café. And that’s no small deal. It’s expensive to hang out in mythic cafés and breathe that ambiance – the classic French breakfast of coffee, juice, and a few pastries that costs less than 9 Euros in my neighborhood café on rue Vavin costs 25 Euros at Café de Flore. No wonder the man in my photo, above is holding his back. He had to give a kidney to pay for his dinner.
Today’s expression, qui a bu boira (key ah boo bwarah) literally means “he who has drunk will drink.” We’d say, “a leopard can’t change his spots.” Unless you, too, are a huge celebrity or the winner of Le Prix de Flore, you might want to save drinking at the Café de Flore for an occasional treat instead of adopting the habits of de Beauvoir and Sartre.