Visiting Les Deux Magots, one of Hemingway’s favorite Parisian historical cafes led to this reflection.
If you are considering booking travel or signing up for a new credit card please click here. Both support LiveAndLetsFly.com.
If you haven’t followed us on Facebook or Instagram, add us today.
It feels only natural, sitting at a people-watching petite table on a wicker chair at Les Deux Magots, that I would enshrine this Hemingway experience by ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. Truly, that’s all I wanted. An espresso and croissant. Yet perusing the menu of the destination restaurant, it’s clear they know their market.
The most expensive thing on the standard breakfast menu is the Petite Dejeuners Hemingway (before embarking on Sunday-only brunch lists) includes a coffee, two organic eggs sunny side up, two strips of bacon, a croissant, and an orange juice for €29. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Hemingway were alive to see it, he’d find a way to destroy them for sure.
It’s a nice enough café, but I walked right by a dozen more down Boulevard St. Germain that would have been just as good for a quarter of the price. I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder for an angry waiter, wishing he had a bigger ticket from which to earn a tip from a foreigner that doesn’t know any better.
Laptop out, settling in for what I can only hope will fill the remainder of a 13-hour layover in the city, I avoid locking eyes with the maitre’d and he busies himself moving swiftly around without actually doing anything.
The most Hemingway thing I could do, would not be to stay and finish but to leave in disgust. As I type, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s autobiographical book of his time in Paris plays in my ears. He’s just finished describing patiently sipping a beer because he had only enough for a demi to follow and a piece of bread with which he sopped up olive oil. It feels more than pretentious but I can’t find a waiter to bring the check.
Those years, he chased around James Joyce’s haunts like a boy-crazy teenager, was not the Ernest Hemingway I think of. In my mind, it’s the Papa years in the Keys and Cuba where he’s old and famous and confident about who he is. This Hemingway is broke, uncertain, and hasn’t yet published a novel.
I recall that this visit is actually my second to Les Deux, the first coming 15 years ago when my wife and I were on our very first international trip together, dating at the time. A friend of mine was visiting Paris on the exact same day we were and he generously lent his museum passes so that we didn’t have to buy them. We met at the café to return them and that act, so many years ago feels more aligned with what the “lost generation” writers like Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway, and painter Picasso would have done at the time.
Like everything, with time, our storied haunts become façades, and to truly identify with the artists we admire, we must strip away the relic worship of these establishments and seek out the spirit of the act. Hemingway often described he would try to write just one true sentence and the rest would follow. In my case, I have saved that for last: Les Deux Magots is a fine café, even a good café, but if you’re seeking the experience of the writers that made it famous, find something down the boulevard that doesn’t have a green velvet rope, and €6 croissants.
In short, Hemingway wouldn’t be caught dead in that place today, and you’re doing a disservice to his legacy by patronizing it?
Reviews such as this is like watching porn and sports: I can enjoy watching the activity without expending the energy to engage in it personally. I liked the photos and wonder if they’re stock because they’re pretty good and how did he get so many shots without people in them? I couldn’t have taken better tourist photos and he saved me, apparently, the 9.4 euros (minus stupid American tip?) that I would have paid to see the same thing.
Of course, it’s not “Petite Dejeuners Hemingway” (sic), but “Petit Déjeuner Hemingway”, like it says clearly on the menu in your photo.
Paris doesn’t have a tipping culture, per se, Kyle and PK, so fear not the “stupid American tip.” That was just Kyle fishing for points from a certain population.
If one doesn’t like Les Deux Magots, another Papa hangout was the Polidor. But to expect that Paris WOULDN’T have NYC, LA, SF or Tokyo prices? That’s a reach!
I agree with a previous comment that you’d have truly enjoyed yourself had you visited Polidor, which is nearby and on a not so busy street – – rue Monsieur Le Prince. Mostly Diners are mostly locals and other frequenters in the know. Honest and delectable cuisine as Hemingway himself once enjoyed and yet chose to keep secret for reasons unknown. Prescient perhaps that one. Polidor is one of my all time Paris favorites. Near the Odeon. Also recommend the splendid boutique hotel a few blocks down that same street, Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche (https://www.hotelsaintpaulparis.com/en/). Be sure to pet the resident cats during check-in.
If you’re into Hemingway’s old haunts– Capt. Tony’s in Key West is a good one in my opinion. You won’t find a place in that part of Key West that doesn’t cater to tourists, but in my opinion, it’s a pretty good compromise between the old days of Hemingway and the new days of cruise ships and spring breakers.
As for $9.40 for a table service coffee and croissant at a nice looking, historical place, that wouldn’t really raise an eyebrow from me even in medium sized american cities.
@Mr. Marcus, I included a photo of another sidewalk cafe on the same street with no one sitting outside. I also had an espresso there, €2, croissants were €3.
I’ve got as great shot of a Hemingway impersonator I took out front – only he was not impersonating being drunk! It was a bit busier when we were there too. Don’t know how you found the streets so empty – a modern miracle perhaps 🙂 https://whitecaviarlife.com/a-light-meal-at-les-deux-magots/
Prices don’t seem that bad for a croissant and coffee. I’d wager I paid 1/2 that when I visited 35 years ago. Inflation takes its toll.
Wow. Is this writer always this insufferable?
Does he expect a café in Paris to still have the same prices it did when Hemingway was there, or the same scruffy feel? That was a hundred years ago!
Then he superciliously dismisses one of Hemingway’s greatest works, stating his preference for the “old and famous and confident” Hemingway over the younger Hemingway of the 1920s who is the narrator of “A Moveable Feast”: ” broke, uncertain, and hasn’t yet published a novel.” Yeah, what a loser, right? If that was meant to be funny, it did not come off that way.
If Mr. Stewart knew anything about Hemingway, he would know that Hemingway only wrote “A Moveable Feast” when he was old, near the end of his life. He was looking back at his days in Paris, when he often did not have heat or enough to eat, but was happy and writing well. The real power of the book is in his description of his deep regret in having ruined his marriage and having chased after fame. Not long after writing it, he committed suicide. It was published after his death.
“Is this writer always this insufferable?”
You must new here lol
Hmm…you expect to sit for hours in a busy, touristy Paris cafe in August while only purchasing a coffee and croissant and are surprised at the cost? Les Deux Maggots is our cafe of choice for a very early morning Christmas Day breakfast. The cafe is empty. We sit outside looking over toward the Eglise St Germain. Monsieur gets the Hemingway, I get the Sartre, as we are pampered by a solicitous waiter. Perhaps he has recovered from the August hoards?
Another diversion of opinion: I much prefer “early” Hemingway to the bloated, bullying, alcoholic that he became in later life.
“you expect to sit for hours in a busy, touristy Paris cafe in August while only purchasing a coffee and croissant and are surprised at the cost?”
Yeah, people like him expect to be able to sit at cafes for hours on the cheap.
In a city like Paris? Good luck with that.