Culture cafés | see our past food & drink storie
by Julie Baker

Culture cafés

Paris is where culture and café society come together - so where better to plug into that ambience than at the following arty hotspots?

Le Jardin de Varenne Musée Rodin, 77 rue de Varenne, 7e, M° Varenne, tel: 01 44 18 61 10, closed Mon, 10am to 5pm, entrance to park 1E, free for under 18s & adults accompanying children. Cut-off from the chaos of the outside world by high stone walls, the gorgeous garden of the Rodin museum is an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. Yet, it’s often overlooked by Paris residents who cede its charm to the tourists, who throng to the museum in fine weather... At the back of the garden — a simple, unpricey cafeteria-style café proffers one of the most idyllic settings in Paris — its tables laid out between rows of chestnut trees.

Café Marly Cour Napoléon du Louvre, 1er, M° Louvre-Palais-Royal, tel: 01 49 26 06 60, open daily 8-1am. Occupying a long strip of the stately Cour Napoléon, this fashion and media set “fav” provides an elegant introduction to the world’s greatest museum. After spending hours visiting the Egyptian collection, or following signs that eventually tell you the Egyptian collection is closed, as happened on our last trip, you’ll be happy to wander into this sheltered place of solace, a perfect remedy for museum “overkill.” Skip the sun-drenched tables on the main square, facing the pyramid — that are essentially the prerogative of tourists — in favor of the terrace lining the entire length of the splendid open gallery. If this is full, duck into one of the establishment’s rococo post-modern interior salons. Also a popular restaurant — the carré agneau is always a good bet — it operates as a café cum tearoom outside dining hours.

Café Beaubourg 43 rue St-Merri, 4e, M° Les Halles, tel: 01 48 87 63 96, open daily, 8-1am. Wedged between the IRCAM experimental music factory and the Pompidou Center modern art mecca with its galleries, cinemas and library, this place is as contemporary as they come. The only thing old-fashioned about it is the surprisingly slow service provided by young men sporting tight, dark suits and oodles of hair jell. The spacious, sunny terrace with its cut-metal chairs provides non-stop entertainment, while the interior — a soft “wash” of blues and grays — even boasts its very own catwalk for the style-conscious.

Musée d’Orsay 1 rue de la Légion d’honneur, 7e, M° Solférino, tel: 01 40 49 48 14, closed Mon, 7E, 5E, free admission first Sun of the month and for under 18s. Home to the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, this converted mainline station also possesses one of the city’s quirkiest cafés. Located among its greatest treasures — on the top floor — it exudes a delicious aroma of coffee that leads you past the Van Goghs to a large, solemn room overlooked by the mother of all Paris clocks. When the weather is fine, the overworked staff may actually allow you onto the terrace, which affords a magnificent view across the river to the Tuileries, a sight worth the admission price in itself.

Le Totem Palais de Chaillot, Enceinte du Musée de l’Homme, 17 pl du Trocadéro, 16e, M° Trocadéro, tel: 01 47 27 28 29, open daily, noon to 2am, free entry to the café. Paris cafés are made for people-watchers, and where better to conduct some leisurely anthropological studies, over a drink or two, than at this unusual café located in the city’s Museum of Mankind? Soaring walls and towering ceilings accommodate a host of traditional artworks including the sacred wooden statue that gives the place its name. Along with budding ethnological filmmakers and social anthropologists, the café attracts romantics drawn by the spectacular view across the Trocadéro gardens. Stick to cold drinks, served with nibbles, or keep it simple and have a café express rather than the disappointing hot chocolate.

Café Bibliothèque 128-162 av de France, 13e, M° Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, tel: 01 56 61 44 00, open daily 8-2am. Overlooked by the four open book-like towers of Paris’ futuristic TGB “Trés Grande” national library, this lively café is part of the recently opened MK2 Bibliothèque cinema complex, which has already worked wonders helping to pep up a previously “flat” part of town. Glass walls ensure that the interior is flooded with sunlight whenever the skies are clear, and a robust color scheme of red and white — along with low-priced quality ice cream — keeps spirits up even on overcast days. Comfy banquettes salute each other in the center of the room, while more traditional table settings line the outer walls, and there’s a large terrace out front. Plus... record and DVD outlets, as well as the more casual MCafé.

Virgin Café 52-60 av des Champs-Elysées, 8e M° Franklin Roosevelt, tel: 01 42 89 46 81, open daily 10am to 11:30pm. Perched at the very summit of the marble “clifftops” of the Virgin megastore, this informal café offers great views onto the Champs-Elysées on one side, and a vertiginous “camera” sweep over MTV land on the other. Though chiefly frequented by in-house shoppers worn out after trying to re-locate the jazz section — way, way at the back — and the rap section — right up the front, where jazz used to be, it features a 5-7pm weekday Happy Hour, popular with 8th arrondissement office workers.

Café de Flore 172 bd St-Germain, 64, M° St-Germain-des-Prés, tel: 01 45 48 55 26, open daily 8-2am. A visit to this local institution is what’s required to soothe frazzled nerves, and remind you of why you wanted to live in Paris in the first place... Publishing house big-wigs and their authors bring a “Touch of Class” to this time-honored establishment, while beautiful people from cinema and theater circles add a zest of glamour. Resist the temptation of the usually overcrowded terrace or the lovely downstairs interior, and head for the spacious upstairs salon where, over a sumptuous hot chocolate in bright morning sunshine, you may find yourself running into famous habitués...

Le Soufflot 16 rue Soufflot, 5e, RER Luxenbourg, tel: 01 43 26 57 56, open daily, 8am to 11pm. Favored by neighborhood writers as well as professors and students from the nearby Sorbonne, this large and attractive café boasts a broad terrace area with views down to the Luxembourg Gardens and up to the Pantheon, that remains open even at the height of winter thanks to a brace of blazing braziers. Books are the theme here, with a cozy wood-lined reading room at the back, complete with volume-lined shelves and donnish clients smoking pipes. Skip the tepid hot chocolate and coffee and stick to cold drinks, such as the draft “beer of the month.”

Café Marly

M Café