While I lived in Paris, it became a Christmas tradition, when my corner café closed for the holidays and most of my friends had left town, that my little dog and I would take our breakfast — coffee for me, and a shared tartine — on the terrace of Les Deux Magots. So it was with interest that I read in Le Parisien of the changes afoot.
The legendary café of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is set to become a little more French — yet again. Once the stomping ground of intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Surrealist artists, and the literary elite of two continents, the café has become an obligatory stop for tourists, who now make up of more than half its clientele. In an effort to win back French hearts , the café is doing some fine tuning.
The establishment has been in the same family since 1914, and Catherine Mathivat, its president and great-granddaughter of founder Auguste Boulay, plans to keep it that way. Mathivat emphasized that this is a gentle transformation, an “evolution without revolution.”
First there are the physical changes. The dining room has been freshened up with paint and the friezes restored. Globe lights have replaced the lampshades of the wall sconces, and the ruby red drapes have given way to emerald green. Subtle transformation doesn’t come cheap, and the total for the “new look” is estimated to be in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand euros.
On the cultural side, the café remains true to its literary roots. Small bookcases on the spruced-up terrace hold books that are at the disposal of the clients. In addition to the Prix des Deux Magots, which has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933, other literary honors include the Prix Pelléas for the best work dedicated to music and the Prix Apollinaire, awarded to the best collection of poetry.
Under the direction of musician Lionel Boccara, there will be “Les Jeudis du Jazz” — Jazz Thursdays — with live performances every week.
Les Deux Magots is open seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 in the morning, and located a 6, place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris.