Saint-Germain-Des-Prés, magic words… Unique neighborhood of Paris , where skirted and intermingled the various currents of artistic and literary creation in a world of freedom.
Café de Flore appeared at the beginning of the Third Republic, probably in 1887. It owes its name to a small sculpture of deity that stood on the other side of the boulevard.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Maurras, housed on the first floor, where he wrote his book “Under the Sign of Nature”.
Around 1913, Apollinaire bring himself to the place. With Salmon, they transform the ground floor newsroom: the journal “Evenings in Paris” was born. The war will not change the habits of the great poet, the Café de Flore is his office, he meets at fixed times.
And during a spring day in 1917, he introduced Philippe Soupault and André Breton. Later, causing the meeting between these two young poets and Aragon, Apollinaire lays the foundation of the Dadaist group.
The same year, he coined the word “surrealism”. When Tristan Tzara arrived in Paris, his Dadaist friends make him visit the Café de Flore because this is where Apollinaire had lived and died (1918). In 1922, writing of the scholarly journal “Le Divan” regularly gather on the benches of the café. Malraux, he just takes his icy Pernod.
Intellectuals, painters, publishers, moviemakers meet and “recognize each other”…
In the 30’s, Pascal, the philosopher-waiter Albert Camus nicknamed Descartes, serves Trotzki or Chou En Laï. It’s time for the writers to rush at the Flore. Léon-Paul Fargue spends one hour or two every day, Raymond Queneau talks with Miche Leiris. Georges Bataille, Roger Vitrac, Robert Desnos are sitting close to Thierry Maulnier’s table, sometimes joined by Robert Brassillac. Inevitably, the publishers set up their observation miradors: Bernard Grasset, Robert Denoël, Eugène and Charles Easquelle. Survivors from Montparnasse stay happily, like Derain, the Giacometti brothers, Zadkine and Picasso with Christian and Yvonne Zervos.
The Painter Yves Tangut brings Léo Mallet, who wrote after the war La nuit de Saint Germain des Prés. Now it’s time for the moviemaker to adopt the Flore: Marcel Carné, Yves Allégret alongside actors such as Serge Reggiani, Jean Vilar, Arthur Adamov. The “Prévert’s band” invests the scene, sometimes occupying three quarter of the room. The “Prévert’s band” was actually the “October group”: Jacques Prévert, Pierre Prévert, Jean-Louis Barrault, Raymond Bussières, Roger Blin, Marcel Duhamel, Jean-Paul Le Chanois, Guy Decomble, Paul Frankeur, Yves Deniaud, Paul Grimault, Fabien Loris, Sylvia Bataille, Maurice Baquet, Max Morise et the little Mouloudji…
“In the Flore, we cruise Occupation like an ocean, splashes from events broken on the curling”
Henri Pelletier (paintor)
In 1939, Paul Boubal bought The Café de Flore.
The big stove in the middle of the room is an invitation to long permanence and writers do not hesitate to enjoy their stay. Simone de Beauvoir was also one of the first to adopt it. Jean Paul Sartre wrote: “We settled down there completely: from nine in the morning until noon, we worked there, we went for lunch and came back at two o’clock and then we talked with friends we made until eight o’clock. After dinner, we met the people we had appointment with. This may sound strange for you, but we were at home in the Flore”. Another important detail, under the Occupation, we couldn’t find Germans in the Flore. Sartre invented the existentialist philosophy. He said: “the roads of the Flore were four years for me the Roads to freedom”.
At that Time, the Flore was more like an English club than a café, that is by tables of 10 or 12 people that meet like lifelong friends or just met the night before, each can then improvise one of them only by knowing how to get accepted quietly and brilliantly. At that time Léon Paul Fargue and Maurice Sachs came every day. Simone Signoret wrote in her memoir: “Iwas born one evening in March 1941 on a bench at the Café de Flore”. During the german occupation, in the Flore, it smelled freedom, the “Prévert band” on one side, the Sartre family on the other, or even the “communist group” led by Marguerite Duras, Dionys Mascolo, Roger Vailland and Daquin.
Existentialism is embodied in a youth addicted to freedom, Juliette Gréco, Boris Vian…
Existentialism is trendy and Juliette Gréco imposes her elongated style. Boris Vian wrote “Manual of Saint-Germain-des-Prés”, he played trumpet in the basement, wrote poems, he was living at that time and play a main role in its history. Saint Germain des Prés is a place for meetings and friendship, a great laboratory where each can offer his shape, color, taste, vision of freedom, because it is freedom what it’s all about. Arthur Koestler, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Lawrence Durell are regular customers, they are all PCF members, the Pouilly Club of France created by Boubal, anecdotal party named after the famous white wine served. At noon the boss saluted André Breton’s surrealist friends, at night it was Albert Camus or the four hussars: Nimier, Déon, Kléber Haedens and Jacques Laurent, while Albert Vidalie and Antoine Blondin started memorable battles with boiled eggs (or raw) that sometimes splashed the Prévert brothers and their friends from the October group, and also Artaud or Vian.
Daniel Gélin and Danielle Delorme are young and beautiful. It’s in the Flore that they contain their love, Jacques Tati surely saw them and Sacha Guitry probably envied them.
“At that time, it seemed that all cinema met there, the authors and their muses, the screenwriters, designers, almost all those who participated in creating a movie.” Daniel Gélin
The world of cinema takes control of the place: Christian Vadim, Jane Fonda, Jane Seberg, Romain Polanski, Marcel Carné. Brigitte Bardo, Alain Delon, Losey and Belmondo prefered the terrace, like Simone Signoret, Yves Montand or Gerard Philippe before them. Daniel Fillipachi regularly frequented the Flore, place he met child when he accompanied his father. Léo Ferré, never enters without Pépé, his monkey, on his shoulder. The intelligentsia in this time, those already known or not yet are in the room: Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, Sollers, Sagan, Roland Barthes, Nathalie Sarraute, Romain Gary…
Also fashion, its creators – Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Rochas, Gunnar Larsen, Givenchy, Lagerfeld, Paco Rabanne, Guy Laroche – as its “creatures»: the most beautiful , the most famous supermodels in the world, and Thierry Le Luron and his partners. Jacques Chazot, Mourousi and Jean Marie Rivère just observe gently with Regine, Castel or the Botton brothers.
Caesar, Tristan Tzara, Alberto Giacometti, Dali, Pierre Seghers, Pierre Brasseur, Alice Sapritch, Serge Reggiani, Jean Vilar and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan extend the tradition of the Café de Flore during the sixties
The Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Lipp are its chapels. In 1983, Mr. Boubal met Mr. Siljegovic and his wife, their respective sensibilities corresponded perfectly. And, at the Café, Mr. Boubal found in them the worthy successors of this mythical place.
The Flore is said to be a « myth », an « institution », only reserved to initiated clients.
The specters of those who frequented it, the known or not faces of those who went there make of the Café a place which had a rich past but integrally devoted to the present. The clients are a mix of artists, writers, intellectuals, reporters, politics, designers, or « Great Bosses », also anonymous faithful people. They went to the Café de Flore without having fixed any appointment. They went there to see, to be seen, but discretion was very important for them. The French clients are the ones of yesterday and essentially of nowadays. Serge Gainsbourg drank invariably a double pastis 51, which he had nicknamed a “102”. Gianni Agnelli organized his familial Parisian dinners there. With the Fiac, Francis Bacon, sat down at a table in the Café towards the end of the morning and stayed there until the beginning of the evening.
At the Flore, the first hours in the morning belonged to some regular customers whose ritual didn’t fear the passing of the years, among them: Jean-Loup Sieff, Alain Ayache who ,liked to say « Taking a coffee at the Flore makes us a little bit more intelligent ». Then, journalistic and political appointments followed.
At the Flore, no day looked like another one, even if they all looked like each other. On the second floor, Juliette Gréco likes dreaming, for her « At the Flore, people are less ugly than anywhere else », not far from there, Elkabach reads his newspaper, Jean Druker leads a lively conversation. It is there that writers like giving their interviews, the actors fixing their appointments. Claire Chazal goes and joins a friend of her, and chatters like a schoolgirl. Catherine Deneuve likes the first floor and the others equally, like her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.
Fabrice Lucchini, as light as a feather, shows his « lunacy » under the « Art-Deco » chandeliers of the Flore.
Bernard-Henri Lévy often has lunch at the same table, the one on the right side under the clock. It was exactly there that sat the members of the PCF. Arielle Dombasle, his wife, joins him or goes with her grandmother to drink a tea later in the day when Laurent Terzieff is yet siting at a table. Sonia Rykiel and Nathalie, her daughter, have their table booked everyday until 1.30 pm: if you try to sit at their table, you will be fired by the waiter. The same privilege is shared with Danielle Thompson and her husband, Albert Kosky, for their brunches during the week-ends, they receive, as if they were at home, their family and their friends.
Each year, Lauren Bacall stayed a few months in Paris, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and spent long moments at the Flore, she had the unique presence of a Lady of High Society, which was sublime and discreet. But the Flore is first of all a literary Café where writers of yesterday and of nowadays gather: Albert Cossery, François Nourrissier, Pierre Bourgeade, Jean d’Ormesson, Jorge Semprun, Tahar Ben Jelloun are faithful. Just after the parution of ‘L’Alchimiste », Paul Coelho showed himself at the Flore and spent there most of his Parisian afternoons.
Patrick Besson and Marc-Edouard Nabe like engaging in polemic while drinking, sat around a table. Paul Bruckner and Yves Simon converse together softly while waving to the others.
At the Flore, The American Cinema is also greatly represented: Sharon Stone likes drinking champagne, Robert de Niro spends whole mornings looking at people in the street, Francis Ford Coppola declared on a French Channel that his dream was living in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and to be able to eat his breakfast at the Flore each morning (his daughter, Sofia, is faithful). Johnny Depp doesn’t have any specific hour: early in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon or late in the evening. In Spring, Isabella Rosselini lounges outside in front of the Café, Jack Nicholson, smoking a cigar, takes advantage of the first rays of the sun. Al Pacino, Tim Burton, Matt Dillon, Harvey Keitel, Gary Oldman, Cher, Paul Auster meet there.
Le Flore is the world’s most famous coffee. With Sophie Fontanel, know what to order, what to say and where to sit… and become a regular!
Four ways to call people who go to Flore: “A regular.” This is the basic formula that you immediately put yourself among the few people who have the right to reserve a table by phone. “A pillar of Flore.” This is the inelegant formula. God is witness that never a regular at Flore will say that. “He is often at the Flore.” This is the luxury formula. That means that guy (Quentin Tarantino, for example) knows where luxurious places are. He does not play pinball in the Colibri café. He is not a cheap guy. “When he comes to Paris, he goes to Flore.” It is specially formulated for U.S. actors. Robert De Niro, now slightly out even in the Flore, when it comes to Paris, he goes to the Flore. Or, if he cannot because of the paparazzi, he gets meals from the Flore delivered to his hotel.
Language to use in the Flore To order a coffee. If you want to be chic, do not say a “coffee”, but a “coffee pot”. It comes in a small pot with the empty cup and its adorable little tray. To order a glass of wine. If you want to be chic, do not say “a glass of white wine”, but a “Ladoucette” house wine. To order French fries. If you want to be chic, do not ask (there is none), but order a “pack of crisps”.
How to recognize a regular When he enters. He says hello to Mister at the entrance and go to shake hands with the cashier lady, how is either Marie-Hélène, or Nadine, or Irene, the ultra-dolled evening cashier. When he sits down. He drops his belongings, he leaves on the table, including mobile, and he goes hand washing upstairs in total confidence. When he has breakfast. He just asked for boiled eggs, and his toast bread arrive grilled. When he eats something. He takes a welsh rarebit, even in summer. It is in a casserole, a toast topped beer and cheddar cheese, baked in the oven. He eats it flooded with Worcester sauce, you can even (and should) get some along the chin.
Snobbish words to say just before going “You have another idea, apart from the Flore?” Understanding:” I have decided to go to Flore and it is not tomorrow the day that will change my mind, but I pretend to be open to all, although it will be necessarily worse than my first idea.” “Directly to Flore, right?” Understanding: «With you, I am totally at ease, I know we understand each other.” “Let’s meet at the Flore and after, we’ll see what we do…” Understand: «First let’s see how many people we meet at the Flore.”
Acknowledgement: Sophie Fontanel, Elle magazine, December 2005
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