Paris has long been a destination for African American writers looking to escape racism in the United States. James Baldwin described Paris as the “landscape of [his] heart.” Chester Himes attributed much of his fame to Paris: “I felt I had become more famous in Paris than any black American who had ever lived.” Ta-Nehisi Coates moved to Paris after publishing his National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me. In order to explore the history of Black American literature in Paris, we have curated a walking tour throughout the city, connecting the restaurants and cafés that hosted African American writers or featured in prominent literary works.
France opened a world of opportunity previously unknown to many African Americans.
After the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment in 1865, which legally freed slaves, the United States entered a period of Reconstruction, in which African American individuals attempted to gain the rights, freedoms, and property their ancestors had been denied. However, this was met with Jim Crow Laws and segregation further stunting Black progress in America.
Many African Americans came to Europe, and in particular, Paris, to escape racial discrimination they faced back at home. Especially for writers and artists, Paris offered an oasis to create without constant concern for their survival. Though Europe had participated in the slave trade, slavery had been banned for much longer – France banned slave trading in 1817 and completely abolished the practice in 1848. In France, African Americans found a world of freedom they had never experienced before. French hotels, restaurants, and universities were integrated. Interracial relationships and marriages were legal and there was a lesser threat of violence towards African American individuals.
Cafes served as meeting places for authors, editors, musicians, publishers, and countless other intellectuals. Parisian cafes were integrated. African Americans could interact with white peers in a manner forbidden in the United States. Paris’ cafés became hubs for the African American literary world.
Using the Metro
This tour has nine stops. The first three are separated by short metro or bus rides. Some tips for navigating the Paris Metro: First, make sure to keep your ticket until you have exited the station. Sometimes you need them to exit the station, but there may also be guards checking tickets and if you don’t have yours, you will be fined. Second, Each Metro line is associated with a different color. Signage for the Metro typically has the Metro number in a circle that is colored according to the line. For example, line 2 is a dark blue color, so the sign has a 2 in a dark blue circle. Next to the circle is the name of the final station, and describes the direction the train will be traveling. Third, if you get lost or confused, every station has an information desk and often the people there speak some English. Finally, while some train doors open automatically at each stop, some require you to press a button or pull a lever to enter or exit the train. The bus system accepts both Metro tickets and Navigo passes. Both the Metro and bus systems throughout Paris are clean and efficient.
Following Our Tour
For each stop, we have included a literary relevance and logistical information about the restaurant (including hours of operation, how to make reservations, and recommended dishes – these are all subject to change over time or during holidays). As it is a food tour, you can get just as much out of this tour by treating it as a restaurant recommendation list and spreading out your visits during your stay in Paris rather than attempting to visit every restaurant in one day. We have included additional information about nearby sites of literary significance for some of our stops, which you can incorporate into your explorations. Many of these restaurants are popular and expensive due to their place in history. We strongly recommend making reservations in advance. In order to help you save a few (or many) euros, we have also included recipes for a popular dish at each stop so that you can try them out at home!
We have also included a timeline and map to assist you in navigating through the tour. The timeline includes dates for important African American literary figures; when they were born, came to Paris, and wrote or published important works, as well as history about our stops. By putting these in a concise, chronological order, we will demonstrate how spaces and individuals related to and interacted formed networks and associations. Throughout our tour, each stop is also hyperlinked to the Google map of the location, so if you plan on going to one directly from your current location, just click the name of the restaurant or cafe name after “Stop (#):” in the heading.
A few tips as you navigate the eateries: Make sure to politely ask your server, “Do you happen to speak English?” or “Parlez vous Anglais?” rather than assuming they do. France uses military time, so our opening/closing times are also listed in 24-hour time clock format. (9h40 is 9:40 AM, 14h15 is 2:15 PM.) Tips are not expected at all in cheaper cafés, and in some of the fancier restaurants, the tip will be included in the final price. Also, traditional French food is meat, bread, and dairy heavy, so it will be difficult for vegetarians, vegans, or gluten-free individuals to find ample options while out on the town. When possible, we have included vegetarian-friendly plates at our stops. Dining in Paris is an experience. You may have to wait up to 30 minutes each for your order to be taken, for your food, or for the check. Treat this as part of the process, and enjoy the slower pace! As you move through the tour, remember that great writers like Langston Hughes, Chester Himes, and Richard Wright crafted masterpieces sitting where you are today.
History is filled with intertwining narratives. This timeline is designed to help see how stories overlap. People are born, wars begin and end, books are published, and overall, lives are formed and shaped by the events around them.
Note: If you click the square icon with the small arrow right next to the title, a side menu will pop out with each stop number and title. If you click on the purple pin, the side menu will pop out with detailed information on that specific location.
Stop 1: Le Grand Duc & Moulin Rouge
Le Grand Duc
Our first stop is Le Grand Duc, located at 52 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 75009 Paris, France. Once a popular Jazz club & cabaret, it was later reborn as a Chinese restaurant, though it is now effectively abandoned. Famous customers of Le Grand Duc included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Man Ray, Fatty Arbuckle, the Prince of Wales, Jimmy Walker, and Charlie Chaplin. Langston Hughes, a famous Black American poet, author, and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance, worked here as a dishwasher from 11pm to 9am while living in Paris in 1924. Hughes writes in a letter to Countee Cullen that he was impressed by Le Duc’s “culinary staff and entertainers [being] American Negros” and “one of the owners is colored too.”
The owner of Le Grand Duc that Hughes described in his letter was Eugene Bullard, a Black American who fought during World War I in the 170th Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. He was also the first Black American pilot, joining the Aéronautique Militaire in 1916.
Le Grand Duc’s vibrant jazz scene inspired the musical rhythms and word choice found throughout Hughes’s poetry. His stylistic choices marked the beginning of jazz poetry, which Hughes argued was,
“a uniquely African-American literary form… often incorporating syncopated rhythms, jive language, or looser phrasing to mimic the improvisatory nature of jazz.”
–Langston Hughes, ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, 1926
Parisian Night Life & Moulin Rouge
While jazz music no longer fills Le Grand Duc’s walls, many of the surrounding clubs, like the Monkey Bar next door, are still active. We recommend returning to the area after dark and exploring the current jazz club offerings to get a feel of what Le Grand Duc might have been like during the Harlem Renaissance.
Another option is the Moulin Rouge, a popular cabaret just up the street. It is located at 82 Boulevard de Clinchy, 75018 Paris, France. To get there from Le Grand Duc, head southwest (if you’re facing the big red door, head up the street along the right side of the door). Turn right onto Rue Pierre Fontaine and follow the street as it curves right and becomes Place Blanche. Then turn right onto Boulevard de Clichy and Moulin Rouge will be on your right. Langston Hughes also mentions in his letter to Countee Cullen,
“Happily or not, I have fallen in to the very whirling heart of Parisian night life – Montmartre, where topsy-turvy, no one gets up before seven or eight in the evening, breakfast at nine, and nothing starts before midnight. Montmartre of the Moulin Rouge, Le Rat Mort, and the famous night clubs and cabarets!”
–Langston Hughes, ‘Letter to Countee Cullen’, 1924
We recommend making reservations for an evening show–though be warned, tickets start at 180€. We also recommend checking their seasonal menus beforehand. Both pesco-vegetarian and vegan menus are offered. Note that you are required to prepay for your evening when making your reservation, you must arrive 30 minutes before the show, and there are strict attire requirements. Children over the age of 6 are welcome, and those under the age of 12 are eligible for discounted tickets. Moulin Rouge has a children’s menu. While different from Le Grand Duc both in historical significance and style, Moulin Rouge is an entertaining venue that provides insight into the environment that Le Grand Duc was a part of and that Hughes describes.
Stop 2: Fouquet’s
To get to Fouquet’s from the Grand Duc, walk northeast on Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle toward Rue de la Rouchefoucauld. You should pass Chez Mourne and Théâtre La Cible on your right. When you get to the Place Pigalle, walk until you cross the Boulevard de Clichy and enter the Pigalle Metro station. Take M2 (dark blue) in the direction of Porte Dauphine until you reach the Charles de Gaulle – Étoile stop. Follow the Arc de Triomphe signs to exit. You will get out at the Arc de Triomphe, so feel free to check it out before heading on your way. To get to Restaurant Fouquet’s, walk along the Champs-Elysées away from the Arc for about seven minutes. The restaurant should be on your right at 99 Avenue des Champs-Elysees, on the corner of Champs-Elysees and George V.
Fouquet’s is a gourmet restaurant that was used as the backdrop of Cyrus Colter’s 1979 novel Night Studies. Though that novel was not critically popular, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 1988, primarily for his short stories. In 1993, he published City of Light, a short story about Paul, an African American man who leaves the United States for France in order to pursue his dream of creating a utopian African homeland. Colter didn’t start writing until he was 50. At the time, he headed the African American Studies department at Northwestern University as the first Black person to hold an endowed chair at the university.
Food at Fouquet’s
Beef tartare is one of Fouquet’s specialties. Though they don’t reveal their secret ingredients online, we found a recipe from the head chef of Aria Restaurant in Australia so that you can try it yourself. Fouquet’s is open 7h30 to 23h30 every day. It serves classic French food (menu linked here), but be warned that it is quite pricey. The set menu of a starter, dish, and dessert is 86€. As it is a very popular restaurant in a highly trafficked area, we recommend that you make reservations in advance. You can do that here.
Stop 3: Cafe de la Paix
After Fouquet’s, cross the street and enter the George V Metro station. Take the M1 (yellow) toward Château de Vincennes for three stops until you reach Concorde. At Concorde, transfer to M8 (lavender) toward Créteil Pointe du Lac for two stops until you arrive at Opéra station. Once you reach Opéra, exit. Café de la Paix should be clearly visible across the street, at 5 Place de l’Opéra.
Origins of Cafe de la Paix
Café de la Paix was inaugurated May 5th, 1862 along with the Hotel de la Paix, which later became the InterContinental Paris le Grand Hotel. It was popular among the French literary community, with Oscar Wilde as one of its regular customers. This restaurant was a main part of the American image of Paris. In November 1948, the restaurant became the set of “This is Paris,” the first program to be broadcasted live from France to the United States.
Hughes in de la Paix
The Café de la Paix also represented the introduction of Paris to a very specific American: Langston Hughes. He traveled around the world, settling in Paris for eleven months before returning home. As he writes in his autobiography The Big Sea, Hughes arrived in Paris in February 1924 at the Gare du Nord station:
When I got to the Opéra, a fine wet snow was falling…to the right and left of me stretched the Grands Boulevards. I looked across the street and saw the Café de la Paix. Ahead the Vendôme. I walked down the rue de la Paix, turned, and on until I came out at the Concorde. I recognized the Champs Elysées, and the great Arc de Triomphe in the distance through the snow. Boy, was I thrilled!
–Langston Hughes, The Big Sea: An Autobiography, 1940
Back to Reality
The magic of Paris didn’t last forever: after a while, Hughes ran out of money. He wrote back home to his friends, telling them to stay in the United States. After describing his wild, extravagant adventures, Hughes ended: “But about France! Kid, stay in Harlem! The French are the most franc-loving, soul-clutching, hard-faced, hard worked, cold and half-starved set of people I’ve ever seen in life….Little old New York for me. But the colored people here are fine. There are lots of us.” Hughes returned to the United States later that year.
Food at de la Paix
The restaurant is open for breakfast weekdays from 7h00 to 10h30, for lunch from 12h00 to 15h00, and for dinner from 18h00 to 23h30. The breakfast menu can be found here, and the lunch and dinner menu can be found here. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Hughes didn’t choose to stop and eat here; nowadays, a meal here is expensive, with a brunch set menu costing 120€. Because it is a popular, historical establishment, we recommend that you make a reservation beforehand here.
A popular appetizer at the Café de la Paix is the french onion soup. If the 22€ price tag is a bit much for you, try making it at home! We found a particularly scrumptious recipe from the French-born chef of Le Gavroche, a Michelin star restaurant in the United Kingdom.
Stop 4: Le Select
The next stop after Cafe de la Paix is the Cafe Le Select. To get here, exit the Cafe de la Paix and cross Place de l’Opera to the Opera metro stop which lies directly across from Cafe de la Paix. From there, take the M3 (olive) toward Gallieni and ride for 4 stops to Reaumur – Sebastopol. At Reaumur – Sebastopol, transfer to the M4 (magenta), and ride towards Mairie de Montrouge for 11 stops it till Vavin. After exiting at Vavin, follow the Boulevard du Montparnasse towards Rue Vavin. Le Select will be at the intersection of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Rue Vavin, at 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse. Though it is located quite far from the other stops, Le Select’s central Parisian location makes it a convenient restaurant to visit when in the center of the city or near the Luxembourg Gardens. Also, due to its literary significance, we felt it important to include Le Select in our tour, even though it is not very close to the other restaurants. If it is too out of the way for you to visit during a walking tour with the other stops, you might want to consider visiting it another time by clicking the hyperlink in the section title.
Founding of Le Select
Founded in 1923, Le Select lies close to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg and the Modern Art Museum. Though it is a traditional brasserie, or brewery, Le Select does serve full meals. Despite its rich history, Le Select does not flaunt its literary past. Since it is not as famous as other restaurants included in this list, most patrons of Le Select are not tourists there to relive history, but are locals seeking the Select’s cuisine.
Himes at Le Select
Chester Himes, an African American crime novelist, spent much of his time writing in Le Select. In his book about the literary culture in Paris’s Beat Hotel, researcher Barry Miles describes how Himes “wrote several of his books sitting outside the Select, cutting an impressive figure in his gabardine raincoat, crew cut, and little moustache.” Himes crafted much of his oeuvre at Le Select. One such work is The Crazy Kill, written in 1959. This detective thriller, the third installment of the Harlem Detective series, entranced audiences with the struggles of the two lead detectives, both Black men, as they hunt for a vicious killer.
Le Select was also integral to James Baldwin’s famous 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. This book, which tells the story of a white bisexual American man living in Paris, was written by Baldwin in the Cafe Le Select, and also features the establishment as part of the novel’s setting. After wandering to another bar for a late night drink, the main character, David, begins to aimlessly patrol the street:
I walked slowly back up the boulevard. Then I saw a couple of girls, French whores, but they were not very attractive. I told myself that I could do better than that. I got to the Select and sat down. I watched the people pass, and I drank. No one I knew appeared on the boulevard for the longest while. (91)
–David (speaking), James Baldwin (author), Giovanni’s Room, 1956
Paris and Le Select’s influences on Baldwin are evident in this novel. Baldwin draws on his own experiences in Paris to craft a riveting tale that transports readers into the literary cafes of 20th century Paris. Le Select served as the backdrop for Baldwin and his character, David, just as it served as a venue for artistic debate for many who came to Paris. Even now, it is popular with Parisians due to its delicious food and beverages.
Food at Le Select
If you decide to give this less publicized branch of African American history a look, Le Select is open from 7h00 to 2h00 Sunday through Thursday, and 7h00 to 3h00 Friday and Saturday. Good for small groups of adults, the menu is filled with Parisian dishes such as duck breast, artichoke and asparagus salad, and the salmon tartare. Smaller groups are generally seated fairly quickly, but larger groups should call (+33 1 45 48 38 24) ahead to make a reservation. If you would like to experience the environment that crafted world-renowned novels without being surrounded by tourists, then Le Select may be the spot for you. For those who cannot make the journey to Le Select’s door, here is a recipe by Ricardo Larrivée for salmon tartare so that you can try this delicious Parisian food at home or with friends.
Stop 5: Cafe le Tournon
As you exit Le Select, turn around the corner to your left and walk along Rue Vavin towards the entrance to Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Now is your chance to stroll through this beautiful park rich with African American history! This park opens between 7h30 and 8h15 and closes between 16h30 and 21h30, depending on the season. It also offers a scenic walk to our next stop! The Luxembourg Gardens contain statues dedicated to famous African American writers like James Baldwin and Richard Wright. You can even take a full tour of African American history in this grand estate. Explore the gardens and, when you are ready, head left towards the Luxembourg Palace. Here you will find our next stop, Cafe le Tournon, right outside the gate behind the palace. Its address is 18 Rue de Tournon, 75006 Paris.
History of Cafe le Tournon
Right across the street from Le Jardin du Luxembourg, you will find a black and white sign over a quaint little cafe. Cafe le Tournon is where many literary geniuses met to share their writing, edit each other’s works, and even to get published.
While first a favorite spot of William Gardner Smith, an African American novelist and journalist who lived in the hotel above the cafe, Le Tournon quickly became a key location for African American writers of the 1950s. It was featured in several famous pieces of literature like Smith’s The Stone Face and Return to Black America. It was also the main setting of Richard Wright’s Island of Hallucination.
Gibson vs. Harrington
Though it was a site of collaboration, Café le Tournon also experienced a lot of fighting. In 1954, there was a violent altercation between Richard Gibson, a journalist and novelist, and Ollie Harrington, a newspaper cartoonist, two African American writers in the group who frequented the café. The disagreement was initially sparked when Gibson, who was staying in Harrington’s old apartment, refused to return the apartment. Later on, Gibson wrote a critical letter about French policies in Algeria to Look and London Observer magazines, which could have resulted in deportation from France. However, Gibson signed it as Ollie Harrington, resulting in a police investigation and more animosity on both sides. Harrington confronted Gibson about this in Cafe le Tournon in 1957, resulting in a fist fight, hospitalizing Gibson for a week. Wright wrote about this as the “Gibson affair,” which was the center conflict in his fictional novel of real events in the aforementioned Island of Hallucination.
Cafe of Secrets
In the Island of Hallucination, Wright used pseudonyms for everyone in the group that hung out at Cafe le Tournon and unraveled all of the deception, betrayal, and snooping that occurred amongst the group, intensified by the paranoia of the Cold War. William Gardner Smith, James Baldwin, Ollie Harrington, Richard Gibson, and Chester Himes were some of the regulars at Cafe le Tournon that were represented in this novel. According to the novel, the atmosphere at the cafe seemed to always involve suspicions among the members. Almost every member accused someone or was accused of being a spy, yet they still congregated at Cafe le Tournon to share their ideas, discuss current issues, and pick up French ladies. To the frustration of some, these African American literary figures were groomed by rich, French ladies who were infatuated with these African American authors and went to Cafe le Tournon to meet them. Himes also met his long-term love interest Regine Fischer, for whom he would eventually leave his wife, at Cafe le Tournon.
Food at Cafe le Tournon
While it has changed over the years, Cafe le Tournon still stands as a historic landmark. They proudly display photos of Duke Ellington, a famous African American musician, and Beauford Delaney, a renowned African American painter. The cafe is open from 7h00 until midnight every day except Sundays. They serve classic French bistro food like escargot and steak. The food runs a little on the pricey side (plates are 17€40 – 35€10), but is less expensive than many of our other stops. We recommend the roasted cod fillet with orange juice and rosemary and a side of crispy vegetables for 22€. If you would like to explore further, all of their dishes and prices are listed on the online menu. To try their fish dish at home, here is a recipe for a delicious, simple orange and rosemary cod fillet.
Cafe le Tournon has some vegetarian options such as salads and a vegetable wok dish, but the menu is not necessarily tailored for any dietary restrictions. Many people mention the excellent wine selection, and stop by just for a glass. Since it is a decently sized cafe, you can go in groups, but you might want to make a reservation, especially if you have a large group. However, during the day there is usually not much of a wait. Cafe le Tournon would also be appropriate for dates or families as it has a nice atmosphere. However, because they are a brasserie-style cafe and offer alcohol, we recommend you do not take children late at night. If you are wondering what to order, they have an Instagram page, @CAFETOURNON that features their beautiful dishes and desserts. Stop by for a fancy lunch, or just for a drink or dessert! You will not be disappointed!
Stop 6: The Big Three
To get to Les Deux Magots from Le Select, walk back down the Boulevard du Montparnasse to the Vavin Metro stop. Board the M4 (magenta) toward Porte de Clignancourt and ride it for 4 stops to St-Germain-des-Prés. Cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain, then walk towards the Place St-Germain-des-Prés. On the corner, at 6 St-Germain-des-Prés, is Les Deux Magots. As you walk to Les Deux Magots, you will see the Church of Saint Germain des Prés, located at 3 place St-Germain-des-Prés. This is a reconstruction of a monastery that currently houses Rene Descartes’s tomb.
Founding of Les Deux Magots
We have now arrived at the first of the infamous trio of literary Parisian cafes. Though cafe culture is rich all over Paris, three cafes stand out in African American history. Named for the two Chinese figurines out front (as Les Deux Magots literally translates to the Two Chinese Figures), Les Deux Magots was originally a novelty shop founded in 1812, though on Rue de Buci. It moved to its current place on Place St-Germain-des-Prés in 1837, and in 1885 it became the true café it is today.
Everybody’s Protest Novel
Les Deux Magots housed several important African American authors during their time in Paris. James Baldwin, upon his arrival in Paris in 1948, met in Les Deux Magots with the editors of a literary journal called Zero Magazine. Unpublished with only $40 in his wallet, Baldwin discussed his potential works with the editors and writers he encountered in Les Deux Magots and other cafes. In the photo to the right, Baldwin is shown inside of Les Deux Magots.
In 1949, Zero published Baldwin’s controversial essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” in which he criticizes protest novels. Baldwin argued that protest novels are flawed, especially as a form of liberation. Protests novels grant characters extreme emotions, primarily rage, in response to the discrimination they have faced, further dehumanizing Black characters. Another African American writer, Richard Wright, took extreme offense to this essay, as Wright primary wrote protest novels. This conflict between Baldwin and Wright later boiled over at the Brasserie Lipp.
In 1953, several years after this quarrel, Baldwin called a meeting between himself, Wright, and another African American author Chester Himes. Baldwin was seeking a loan in order to continue writing in Paris. Baldwin’s request angered and offended Wright, who felt Baldwin had attacked his work in order to make a name for himself in Paris, yet had the audacity to ask Wright for money to continue crafting critiques.
Background on Chester Himes
Unlike Wright and Baldwin, Himes had gotten a partial college education as a result of his middle-class upbringing. He did not feel the need to fight for the same idealistic dreams that both Baldwin and Wright felt obligated to uphold as black authors. Rather than fulfilling the roles assigned through respectability politics or subverting them to shape new perspectives of African Americans, Himes wrote as he pleased. Himes’s carefree nature was partially due to his time served in jail after dropping out of college and turning to theft. It was during his imprisonment that Himes began to write. His novels are raw, painted by his own interpretations of the truth of being Black.
Food at Les Deux Magots
Today, Les Deux Magots is an upscale cafe. It houses the well-to-do of Paris, and can be accessed between 7h30 and 1h00 every day. The menu is pretty standard French, though due to Les Deux Magots’s prestige it is overpriced. If attending with a group, we recommend that you call ahead in advance (+33 1 45 48 55 25). This is not the most appropriate location for young children. Our recommendations include omelettes, the croque monsieur, and the hot chocolate. This is a great place to people watch for hours or maybe work on a manuscript of your own! If the price is a deterrent, try making their famous croque monsieur yourself with this recipe by Marmiton user Pattye.
Now, to get from Les Deux Magots to the Cafe de Flore, simply exit Les Deux Magots and cross the Rue Saint-Benoît. You are now at the Cafe de Flore, located at 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Founding of Cafe de Flore
The second member of the famous trio of Parisian cafes, Cafe de Flore was founded in 1887, and it is named after a sculpture of the goddess Flora located across the boulevard. This cafe, like its competitor Les Deux Magots, was a meeting place for authors from all over the world, including African American writers. Richard Wright, the only African American author to have a plaque in Paris, spent much of his time writing in this cafe, though James Baldwin’s time in the café is more publicized. The Cafe de Flore was the location where Baldwin finished writing his first novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, published in 1953.
Go Tell It On the Mountain
This novel, based in part on Baldwin’s own life, discusses the life of a Black Harlem teen named John Grimes, focusing on the role of religion and family in African American communities. The freedom Baldwin found in Paris allowed him to take a step back and evaluate his experiences in the United States. In Paris, Baldwin wrote and met countless other writers and artists, including Beauford Delaney, in the Cafe de Flore throughout his time in Paris. This cafe would later become a hotspot for Delaney and many other creators.
A Modern Competition
Today, the competition between the Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots has changed, as Adam Gopnick describes in The New Yorker Magazine. In 1997, Gopnik would regularly meet in Cafe de Flore with his compatriots, but never in Les Deux Magots. French essayist Jean-Paul Enthoven explained this unspoken Parisian preference first began during the 1920s. Far right politician Charles Maurras established the Cafe de Flore, attracting conservative customers. Liberal authors, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre, flocked to Les Deux Magots instead. Les Deux Magots, therefore, attracted many tourists hoping to witness literary genius, causing impatient Parisians to cross the street to the sparsely populated Cafe de Flore. Now, it is common for the Cafe de Flore to be filled with upper-class Parisians, while Les Deux Magots houses tourists.
Food at Cafe de Flore
If you choose to follow in the footsteps of many Parisians, Cafe de Flore is open from 7h00 to 2h00 every day, meaning it closes at 2 in the morning and reopens 5 hours later at 7 in the morning. A traditional Parisian cafe, this restaurant does not take reservations. Like Les Deux Magots, Cafe de Flore is not small-child friendly. Some menu highlights include the quiche of the day, onion soup, and coffee. If you want to surround yourself with the elite of France while also experiencing African American history, then Cafe de Flore is the place to be. If the high prices are daunting, try out this recipe for a quiche lorraine by Rebecca Franklin.
Directly across the street from the Cafe de Flore is Brasserie Lipp. Simply cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain and you’re there at 151 Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Founding of Brasserie Lipp
Founded in 1880 by German immigrant Léonard Lipp, the Brasserie Lipp is the final location in the famous cafe triad. In addition to being popular with African American writers, the Brasserie Lipp was also a hot spot for James Baldwin. While he lived on the Rue de Verneuil, he visited the Lipp often. Though the Lipp, Les Deux Magots, and Cafe de Flore are quite pricey nowadays, they were much more affordable during the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.
Baldwin vs. Wright
Now we return to the argument between James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Their disagreement bubbled over one day in 1953 at the Brasserie Lipp. Wright, insulted by a possible attack on his writing style, ran into Baldwin in the Lipp. Upon seeing his critic, Wright quickly became defensive of his own works and questioned Baldwin’s authority to make such claims. Baldwin, a very witty and quick thinking man, dealt back each verbal blow with a retort of his own. Despite their disagreement, Baldwin and Wright had a great amount of respect for the other.
Food at Brasserie Lipp
Unlike Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp does not serve French food. Rather, Léonard Lipp rose to fame on his menu of German cuisine. Open from 8h30 till 1h00, this restaurant is the most casual of the trio, but is still more formal than the average Parisian cafe. Reservations can be made online or by phone (+ 01 45 48 53 91). Small children would be better suited for other restaurants, but teens and adults might enjoy the menu, which features dishes like sauerkraut, roast chicken, and escargot. For a change from the French cuisine that fills Paris, head to the Lipp to try authentic German food while reminiscing on literary discussions of generations past. To try some sauerkraut at home, take a look at Jennifer McGavin’s recipe for authentic German sauerkraut here.
Stop 7: Cafe le Procope
The next stop on this tour is Cafe Procope, located at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006 Paris. To get there from Brasserie Lipp, continue to walk east (away from Cafe de Flore in the direction of Les Deux Magots) along Boulevard Saint-Germain. As you are walking, you will pass La Rhumerie, a favorite spot of William Gardner Smith, a famous African American novelist and journalist mentioned in the information for Cafe le Tournon, while in Paris in 1951. Continue walking straight and turn left onto Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie. Cafe le Procope will be located on your right at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. If you were to keep walking straight instead of turning right, followed by a right on Boulevard Saint-Michel, and a left on Rue de Ecoles, you would arrive at the Grand Amphitheatre de la Sorbonne, where the First International Conference of Negro Writers and Artists was held in 1956.
Cafe le Procope & the Enlightenment
During the 18th century, Cafe le Procope was a meeting place for Enlightenment thinkers, writers, and philosophers. These included Rousseau, Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire, & Diderot. Inspired by the reputation of Cafe le Procope and Enlightenment philosophers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also dined at Cafe le Procope.
A Favorite of Richard Wright
Cafe le Procope was also a favorite spot of Richard Wright, who moved to Paris in 1946. In the spring of 1953, Wright would go to either Cafe le Procope or Cafe Monaco at 3pm nearly every afternoon. Wright would also take his friends to cafes to celebrate completing books. For instance, he took Sartre to Cafe le Procope in 1953 after completing his book The Outsider.
Importantly, the year 1953 has come up several times during the course of this tour. It was a year of production and discussion like no other. This was for several reasons. The 1950s was the decade leading up to the blossoming of the civil rights movement. Tensions were high in the black community, and these tensions were partially released through creation. Additionally, the Korean War had begun only a few years earlier. African Americans who did not want to get drafted into battle saw Paris as an escape from the constant degradation found in the United States and as an escape from potential death abroad.
Food at Cafe le Procope
Today, Cafe le Procope is both a restaurant and cafe specializing in traditional French food. It is open from 11h45 until midnight from Sunday through Wednesday, and is open until 1h00 from Thursday through Saturday. While there are a few vegetarian options, there is not a specialized vegetarian or vegan menu. The restaurant is moderately priced and would be appropriate for both small and large groups. It is probably not the best stop for younger children as the restaurant is very fancy. You should definitely make sure to make reservations before arriving. Some popular dishes include the half-cooked duck foie gras and the mimosa eggs. Cafe le Procope also features set menus starting at around 21€. Be sure to check out their historical menu featuring veal head in casserole as in 1686 and a traditional rooster with wine “Drunk Juliénas.” Le Procope’s website features many images of their popular dishes. Also, if you’d like to make your own mimosa eggs, which are quite similar to deviled eggs, here’s Laura Calder’s recipe.
Stop 8: Brasserie Balzar
From Cafe le Procope, head left towards Boulevard Saint-Germain and take a left onto Boulevard Saint-Germain. Then, take a right onto Boulevard Saint-Michel and another left on Rue des Écoles and you will find Brasserie Balzar at 49 Rue des Écoles, 75005 Paris, on your right. If you look a little past the brewery across the street of Rue de la Sorbonne, you will be able to see the University of Paris, or Sorbonne University. In the University of Paris, they have the Richelieu Amphitheatre, which is where Anna Julia Cooper, and African American author and sociologist, defended her dissertation. Cooper was the first African American to get a Ph.D. from Sorbonne University on French policies regarding slavery in 1925. You can tour the university and maybe even step in the amphitheater if there are no events going on. Besides Anna Julia Cooper’s major steps in her education, this university is also very important to African American history as many other notable African Americans studied at Sorbonne University, such as Carter G. Woodson and Angela Davis. Additionally, the Cluny Museum: National Museum of the Middle Ages, is located only a few blocks away at 6 place Paul Painlevé.
The close proximity of Brasserie Balzar to Sorbonne University means this brasserie was and still is frequented by many university students. Several African American students, writers, and artists met at Brasserie Balzar to discuss current events. The first Congress of Negro Artists and Writers was formed and held at Sorbonne University with the goal of sharing the opinions of the brightest Black thinkers of the time on issues like slavery, colonialism, negritude, and Pan-Africanism. The Brasserie Balzar also provided a space for members of the Congress of Negro Writers and Artists to discuss these topics. These discussions were later published in the cultural journal the writers crafted named Presence Africaine, which included writers like Leópold Sedar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Richard Wright. This journal was not only for everyone of African descent around the world, but also white people of power, especially in places like Great Britain, to be up to date about the current situation of African Americans. They wrote out plans to advance Black people and their works and urged others to help alleviate the condition of many African Americans in America.
Food at Brasserie Balzar
Brasserie Balzar was an important meeting place for many of the students and thinkers of the Negritude Movement, and stands relatively the same today. It is open every day from 8h30 to 23h00, except on Sunday, when it closes at 22h30. They serve traditional French food and their online menu can be found in English, but only has ranges of prices for each category of food. Their menu includes fish and meat dishes that range from 19€90 to 39€80, but they also have set menus that are more affordable at 27€90 euros for a starter and a main course or 37€50 euros for a starter, main course, and dessert. Brasserie Balzar does not offer any completely vegetarian entrees. It is a spacious location that is group-friendly. It would be a perfect location for a date or a family dinner. They do take reservations online, which we recommend for large parties. However, it is not necessary to make a reservation for smaller groups. Sometimes, they offer discounts if you book online. Brasserie Balzar is particularly popular for their French onion soup, yellow chicken, and steak. If you do not want to buy another meal, try making your own yellow chicken at home! While the Brasserie Balzar is a bit pricey, you can get a feel for what African American writers of Sorbonne University experienced after classes!
Stop 9: Shakespeare & Co Bookstore
Upon exiting Brasserie Balzar, walk to your right to Rue Saint-Jacques and look around the corner on your right, across the street from the Sorbonne, to catch a glimpse of Lycée Louis-le-Grand. This is a prestigious high school that both Aimé Césaire and Leópold Sedar Senghor attended and Senghor later taught at.
Césaire and Senghor were two of the leaders that began the Negritude movement in the 1930s, which consisted of critique and literary theory founded in Pan-Africanism. Senghor also went on to become the first President of Senegal. Because it is a private institution, it may be hard to go inside of the school, but it is something to take note of as you pass by.
From Lycee-Louis Grand, turn right onto Rue des Écoles, then turn right again onto Rue Saint Jacques. Just after you see Hotel Henri IV and the Odette Paris Pastry shop, turn right onto Rue Galande. Then take the first left onto Rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre, heading toward the Seine. Shakespeare & Company will be on your left, right on the river at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie.
An English Bookstore (In Paris!)
Shakespeare & Company is a cozy English-language bookstore across the Seine from the Notre Dame. It was opened by George Whitman (no relation to Walt Whitman) in 1951. It was originally under the name Le Mistral, but Whitman changed the name in honor of the original Shakespeare & Co, which was founded by Sylvia Beach, an American, in 1919. Her store at 12 rue de l’Odéon was a popular spot and publishing house for expat writers like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. However, Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co was more important to specifically African American literary history, as it became a gathering place for Black Americans in Paris. From 1966 to 1968, the store was closed by the French police, likely due to Whitman’s anti-war politics. Though he couldn’t sell books throughout this time, he kept the space open and hosted anti-war discussions, women’s collectives, Black Power meetings, Marxist study groups, and poetry readings, like the one below with Langston Hughes and Ted Joans.
The bookstore is attached to a small café also run by the owners, so you can get a small bite to eat while you read. Hours are 9h30 to 19h30 M-F and 9h30 to 20h00 Sat & Sun. It’s small, without much seating, and their menu consists of American café items like coffees, small to-go salads, and pastries. Don’t expect a big meal here; rather, grab a snack. It’s a great option for vegans and vegetarians!
The café’s most highly regarded sweet is the lemon pie. Though George Whitman once said, “there’s only one way to make a good lemon pie,” we found a scrumptious recipe from AllRecipes user Emilie S. Try it at home!
Many African American writers chose Paris to be the setting of some or most of their lives, and served as the spark for creative journeys and intellectual dialogue. While there were conflicts, Paris and its food brought many of them together and allowed them to find inspiration and success. We hope that this guide helps you better understand the context and significance of each location and how each location became so popular today. Whichever cafes you choose to visit, think about who might have met here some 50 or so years ago, what they might have talked or argued about, and how this place might have affected their lives, relationships, and writing. Bon voyage into your journey of the stories and flavors of African American literature in Paris!