Cafés have long been the social, intellectual, and artistic center of Paris. Found on just about every street of the capital, these establishments have seen a reduction in patronage in recent years but many of them have a long, colorful history. At the beginning of the last century the fashionable patrons gradually switched their allegiance from Montmartre in the north to southern spots along the bustling boulevard du Montparnasse. Many of the larger cafés—Le Dôme, La Rotonde, and Le Select—are attracting crowds of locals and tourists even today. Another longtime favorite in the same area is La Coupole.
The proprietors, former managers of Le Dôme, were no fools, setting up their location just down the street. When it was time to choose a name for their new 600-seat brasserie, they also picked a synonym for “dome” to attract clients. Even more clever, for the grand opening in December 1927 they invited a thousand or so people to come and enjoy free appetizers and champagne—1500 bottles of the bubbly as a matter of fact! The party was a wild success, going on till the police broke it up at 5:00 in the morning.
An Art Deco masterpiece, the Coupole’s sleek, rectangular interior pillars were decorated by artists of the day. One of the columns commemorates ostrich-plumed American performer Josephine Baker who dined there with her lover, mystery writer Georges Simenon. Clientele over the years included artists Picasso and Man Ray, writers Hemingway, Henry Miller, Sartre and Beauvoir (pictured), as well as The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Albert Camus supposedly celebrated his Nobel Prize for Literature here in 1957.
Located at 102, boulevard du Montparnasse in the 14th, La Coupole was refurbished to its original glory in 1988. Visitors can drop in from 8:30 a.m. till midnight everyday. And I plan on doing just that the next time travels bring me to Paris.