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Archive for August, 2013

5 Legendary Writers’ Cafés in Europe

By Stephanie Ostroff

It’s sensory overload. The clanging of dishes, banter between artists, heavy perfume of cigars, fresh baked bread, espresso. A porcelain cup knocks against a saucer, as two hot-tempered philosophers debate the tenets of existentialism. A lone writer scribbles from a corner booth. 

Oh, European café culture of yesteryear– what modern writer hasn’t pined for you, even for just a moment. The sterile Wi-Fi setup at Starbucks just doesn’t measure up.

It’s easy to get dreamy-eyed at the thought of literary and artistic minds gathering in grand old cafés off magnificent boulevards, fueled by caffeine and alcohol and each other’s brilliance. Woody Allen indulged this fantasy in his 2011 film Midnight in Paris, in which a screenwriter (Owen Wilson) visiting Paris is transported to the 1920s each night, hobnobbing with intellectuals and artists of the era. 

Unless you have a time machine handy, those days are behind us. Writers camped out beside fist-shaking philosophers in elegant cafés live on in the works they left behind, and in our imaginations. But while that era may have come to a close, many of the establishments themselves still stand. Though the crowd has changed over the years, most of the legendary intellectual hangouts in Europe remain open for business. Yes, you can sit where Hemingway and Kafka once reclined, pull out a pen and paper, and wait for inspiration to strike.  Or at the least, you can take a virtual tour of some of these famed literary cafés: 

Café Louvre
Prague, Czech Republic 
Cafe louvre

The German Philosophical Circle, pondering the teachings of Franz Brentan, held meetings at Café Louvre upon its opening in 1902. Among its members were Franz Kafka and Max Brod. The café served as an office for writers, who used the Louvre’s letterhead when corresponding with publishers, editors and playwrights. When Albert Einstein took up his position as professor at the Prague German University, he, too, became a regular. More than just a coffeehouse, Café Louvre expanded to include an underground jazz club and wine cellar. In 1948, a communist coup saw the café all but destroyed as furniture was jettisoned out its windows onto Narodni Avenue. Fortunately for us, the building was restored in 1992 and re-opened to the public. 
 

Le Deux Magots
Paris, France 

Deux magots
Photo credit 

Set in Paris’ Latin Quarter, Le Deux Magots (“two Chinese figurines”) takes its name from a novelty shop that once occupied the space. Though the café technically opened in 1812, it relocated to its current address in 1873. This place was a haven for Paris’ brightest literary minds: Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway… to name a few. The café made such a name for itself in the writing community that it launched its own award, the Prix des Deux Magots, in 1933. This French literary prize is still given out today, typically to newer, offbeat works.

 

Antico Caffé Greco
Rome, Italy 

450px-Caffè_Greco._Roma

Naturally, Rome’s oldest coffee bar is steeped in history. Antico Caffé Greco opened its doors in 1760, and since then it’s welcomed Byron, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Welles, Levi, and even Casanova. Hans Christian Andersen lived a floor above the café and was a frequent visitor, staking out his own sofa, which remains in the coffeehouse to this day. The café is located on the posh Via dei Condotti, a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps and designer shops such as Prada and Gucci. It’s always had an international edge, but the evolution of the neighborhood and influx of tourists has pushed it to elite status among Italy’s coffee establishments. 

 

Café Bräunerhof
Vienna, Austria

Cafe-Braeunerhof
Photo credit

Bräunerhof was Thomas Bernhard’s preferred Viennese café. Here he penned some of the most important works of to come out of Germany post-World War II. A glass display case on a nearby street corner contains a picture of the author and points passersby in the direction of the café. Inside you’ll find the largest selection of international newspapers in Vienna, original 1920s furnishings and fixtures, and walls covered in mirrors. On Saturdays a small orchestra fills the Bräunerhof with classical music. 

 

La Rotonde
Paris, France 

Rotonde

During the height of America’s literary expat reign in Paris, intellectuals such as Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald congregated at La Rotonde. It was here that Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin met regularly in the spring of 1932, setting the stage for a love affair between the two writers. Hemingway was also a patron. The café made such an impression on him that he memorialized it in The Sun Also Rises. The reference hints that the place may have gained a bit too much popularity: “No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde,” his character Jake Barnes laments. 

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