La Vénus Noire
25, Rue de l'hirondelle (Quartier Latin) Every night from 6pm. On Sundays from 3pm to 9pm.
Cellar with old stone walls and vaulted ceiling date from 1290. At this time, it was called the “Caveau de la Bolée”. It’s in homage to Charles Baudelaire, who was a regular customer, that the owners called it the “Vénus Noire”. The woman who was called as so was Baudelaire’s mistress: Jeanne Duval, or The Mumatto. At the time, the Caveau de la Bolée was also frequented by Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, and ways before them, on the 15th century, by François Villon.
One night, the soul of wine was singing in the flask:
"O man, dear disinherited! to you I sing
This song full of light and of brotherhood
From my prison of glass with its scarlet wax seals.
I know the cost in pain, in sweat,
And in burning sunlight on the blazing hillside,
Of creating my life, of giving me a soul:
I shall not be ungrateful or malevolent,
For I feel a boundless joy when I flow
Down the throat of a man worn out by his labor;
His warm breast is a pleasant tomb
Where I'm much happier than in my cold cellar.
Do you hear the choruses resounding on Sunday
And the hopes that warble in my fluttering breast?
With sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table,
You will glorify me and be content;
I shall light up the eyes of your enraptured wife,
And give back to your son his strength and his color;
I shall be for that frail athlete of life
The oil that hardens a wrestler's muscles.
Vegetal ambrosia, precious grain scattered
By the eternal Sower, I shall descend in you
So that from our love there will be born poetry,
Which will spring up toward God like a rare flower!"
The Soul of Wine
The Flowers of Evil Charles Baudelaire (Translation by William Aggeler ).
Harry's Bar Paris
5, rue Daunou (quartier de l'opéra).
The pub is recommended by James Bond himself if you want to sip one of the best cocktails of the capital.
During the crazy years in Paris, this pub coming straight from a Manhattan's little street, quickly became the HQ of the American expatriates among which were Ernest Hemingway and Francis Scott Fitzgerald. This is where the 'Bloody Mary' has been invented in 1921, in homage to Marie Tudor whose nickname was 'the bloody queen'. The story says that it is also here that George Gershwin composed 'An American in Paris'. The atmosphere and decoration of the Harry's Bar are still intact. The counter, the walls, the mahogany ceiling, the emblems of big American universities, the red seats, nothing lacks to bring us back to these crazy years.
Café de la Paix
12 Boulevard des Capucines (quartier Opéra).
This cafe is located on the first floor of the intercontinental hotel Paris Le Grand, opened since 1862 and inaugurated by Eugénie, Napoléon III’s spouse. In the style of the Second Empire, and after the great relooking of Paris by prefect Haussmann, this café and restaurant soon became a major meeting place for nascent bourgeoisie. It has been frequented by the most famous artists at the time: Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Piotr Tchaïkovsky… Then by artists of the 20th century such as Joséphine Baker, Roman Polanski, Maria Callas, Jean Reno, Patrick Dupont, Marilyn Manson… The Café de la Paix also received Eugène Pirou and his cinematographic projections in 1896. At that time, cinema was just making its debut: in the cellar of the café, people could pay 1 franc to see those movies.
Take the time for a coffee on the terrace. And maybe, just like Oscar Wild who thought he saw a golden angel floating in the air in summer 1898, you will see one of the golden characters from the top of the Garnier Opera House reflecting in the centre of the Place de l’Opéra.
Rendez-vous des Amis
10, rue sainte croix de la Bretonnerie (quartier le Marais).
In the middle of the 70s, the restaurant and pub Au Rendez-vous des Amis becomes Renaud’s headquarters. The place is only 150 meters away from the live music bar ‘La Zapi’ (now Café-Théâtre les Blancs Manteaux), where Renaud and his guitar went live for the first times. Across the street, a bunch of pals - Martin Lamotte, Gérard Lanvin, Roland Giraud… - is building the Théâtre de la Veuve Pichard, which will later become Le Point Virgule. They too begin to frequent the Rendez-vous des Amis. Gérard Lanvin’s wife, Dominique, is in charge of the decoration in the theater and acts in Martin Lamotte’s plays. She will soon become Renaud’s girlfriend. Renaud’s chance is a movie written and acted by Coluche: ‘Vous n’aurez pas l’Alsace et la Lorraine’. In need of a white knight, Coluche chooses Gérard Lanvin to perform the prince. While Martin Lamotte is putting on ‘Le Secret de Zonga’, Gérard Lanvin lets him down and joins Coluche’s shooting, leaving Dominique, his wife, alone with Renaud, the rogue, hanging around at the café on the other side of the street. Martin Lamotte, who had already performed with Renaud at the Café de la Gare (yes, Renaud started on the boards!), offers to him the role of the prince in his own play. That is how the transfixed lover eventually abandons his favorite pub, crosses the street with his hands on his pockets, and meets his lady love on the boards of the theatre… but that’s a different story.
A few months later, Renaud moves into Dominique’s small apartment, in the same street than Au Rendez-vous des Amis, meanwhile Gérard Lanvin has to be housed by Coluche. But one night, not resentful at all and as a do-gooder, he decides to go to Au Rendez-vous des Amis. Renaud is drinking at the counter and smoking a Gauloise. Gérard Lanvin comes towards him and tells him to take good care of Dominique because she deserves happiness, otherwise he’ll have to deal with him.
Today, the restaurant Au Rendez-vous des Amis is not frequented by this bunch of pals anymore, and Madame David, the owner, has retired. But the place is still there, offering traditional French food that is worth a short halt. The street Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie has become a very animated gay street in Le Marais.
Bars in Paris
La Closerie des Lilas
171, boulevard du Montparnasse.
In the 1840’s, there was a very famous ball in Paris, close to the Luxembourg gardens, named La Closerie des Lilas, also known as its owner’s name, the Bullier ball. One says that in order to decorate his ball, Mister Bullier had had 1000 lilac roots planted with arbours making the ball looking very bucolic. The ball was located on 39, avenue de l’Observatoire. The middle class loved to mix with the riffraff and used to come here to dance Scottish, polka and mazurka dances. In 1847, not far from the Bullier ball, an old relais hotel was transformed into a café and restaurant named “la Closerie des Lilas” in homage to the Bullier ball. The legend says that la Closerie des Lilas is located on the ruins of Louis the Pious’ castle. After Louis the Pious’ death, the castle was abandoned, and became a gloomy place. At night, one could hear screams… One even says that the devil was living in the castle’s ruins! The place thus was suitable for artists, because if God is the greatest “over-ground” artist, Satan is the underground master. Once la Closerie des Lilas was opened, the place quickly attracted writers, poets and painters… Charles Baudelaire and his friend Théophile Gautier, Paul Verlaine, Émile Zola and the Goncourt brothers were regular customers at la Closerie. Since then, the place has seen famous people passing by: painters such as Paul Cezanne, Picasso – who moved with his friends from Montmartre to Montparnasse – Modigliani… but also writers from the Lost Generation: Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway used to go there to write. Besides, Hemingway apparently wrote “The Sun also Rises” on one of the tables of la Closerie des Lilas. Today, there is a copperplate with his name written on, at the bar. Henry Miller, Paul Eluard, Blaise Cendrars, Aragon, André Gide, André Breton, the photographer Man Ray also came to la Closerie.
Closer in time, Renaud was used to spend his days and his nights there with a bottle of pastis. At the time, Renaud and his brother Thierry Séchan used to live in a flat right above the Closerie des Lilas. This is there that the singer met his second wife, Romane Serda, from whom he has now divorced.
Nowadays, the Closerie is more frequented by show-off than real bohos. There no longer writers or painters there, but anyways, its walls are full of memories!
Here’s an extract of “Paris is a Moveable Feast” from Ernest Hemingway, where he describes la Closerie des Lilas at the time:
The Closerie des Lilas was the nearest good café […] People from the Dome and the Rotonde never came to the Lilas. There was no one there they knew, and no one would have stared at them if they came. In those days, many people went to the cafes at the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Rapsail to be seen publicly and in a way such places anticipated the columnists as the daily substitutes for immortality.
The Closerie des Lilas had once been a café where poets met more or less regularly and the last principal poet had been Paul Fort whom I had never read. But the only poet I ever saw was Blaise Cendrars, with his broken boxer’s face and his pinned-up empty sleeve, rolling a cigarette with his one good hand.