Returning home from a week in Brooklyn, where serving “perfectly” brewed beans has almost been legislated into city bylaws, I’m always startled to see Parisians rush to their favorite zinc, savoring their industrially roasted, under-frothed café crème for a reassuring taste of home.
Everyone has their favorite café. It’s usually the one closest to home or the office, because it’s not actually about the coffee, it’s about the crowd of familiar faces and friendly gossip.
There are a few mythic addresses, though, for which even locals will cross town to savor a sun-soaked terrace, a colorful scene or prime people watching.
Café de Flore – Expats tell me that the Flore is just for tourists these days. But beyond the guidebook-toting, picture-snapping bunch, a fascinating lineup of Paris’ who’s-who stop in for a café crème in the mornings or a glass of wine in the evenings. You may spot French philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy sitting in the prime seat, the one just to the left, by the cashier. Perfume designer Frédéric Malle breakfasts here daily, and Sonia Rykiel even has a sandwich named in her honor. In the evening, colorful regulars in eccentric clothes gather at a single table, co-opting wicker chairs and more tables as their numbers increase over a long-lasting apéro. Cafe de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006.
Le Select & Au Père Tranquille
Le Select – Local businessmen stop by for an early morning espresso shot at the antique zinc bar, before heading to their office in the Montparnasse tower just steps away. Every day, internationally acclaimed illustrator Rick Tulka stops in to sketch whoever strikes his fancy, including the two elderly ladies who are often sitting by the door. Clad in animal prints with plunging décolletés, their giggles fill the room as they flirt with passing men. In the late afternoon the movie theater crowd starts to arrive for a quick espresso to keep them awake. After the show they return for a light bite and a heated debate about the evening’s entertainment. Le Select, 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006.
Au Père Tranquille
Au Père Tranquille – On a strategic corner in the pedestrian area of Les Halles, this is the place Parisians head on a sunny day to watch waves of humanity flow by; a current of young teens, lost tourists, and avid shoppers flood the space with eclectic energy. Books fill the shelves inside, spilling over and offering an intellectual break for anyone looking for a quiet moment by one of their ornamental palms — the perfect accessory for the space’s 1930s decor that hasn’t budged in decades, and won’t be changing any time soon. Au Père Tranquille, 16 Rue Pierre Lescot, 75001.
La Charrette – this café looks like a generic little dive, good only for a quick shot of caffeine if you happen to be strolling by. In winter the windows are coated in steam, blocking the vibrant crowd within, and in summer there is no terrace to offer a moment in the sun. But step inside and you are likely to see a table of exuberant art students from the neighboring École des Beaux Arts laughing away the time between classes, passing portfolios over each other’s heads. There may be two men in bespoke suits at a table by the door, discussing the art market before returning to one of the internationally acclaimed art galleries on the street, while a neighbor stands at the bar, his head hung low, beaten by a hangover from the night before. La Charrette, 17 Rue des Beaux-Arts, 75006.
Le Rubis – tucked away on a side street in the ultra glamorous Faubourg St Honoré neighborhood, this café is anything but. Run by a couple from the Auvergne region, little has changed in this cantine since the 50’s, which boasts one of the last remaining Turkish toilettes in the city. Local bankers, shopkeepers and restaurant staff stop by in the morning for a quick café and perhaps one of the hard boiled eggs on the bar before heading to work. On market day, local vendors can be overheard giving one another a hard time as they ask for a wine or cognac at 10am. In the evenings, it is a no-fuss wine bar serving the same crowd, and a few stray shoppers looking to slum it a bit. Le Rubis, 10 Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré, 75001.
Café de Flore
- Tory rounds up our favorite writer-friendly cafes with WiFi around the city.
- Kinfolk chats with Nico Alary, co-founder of one of our favorite new coffee/food shops, Holybelly.
- Read more about the new wave coffee movement that has taken Paris by storm, courtesy of Kim Laidlaw. We do still love a tried and true café though!