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The Closerie des Lilas: the gathering place of artists and history makers

July 25, 2012

Now a restaurant, a piano bar and a café, the Closerie des Lilas has kept both a nostalgic look and a feel of tradition and authenticity. Behind a flowered façade, its wooden walls and dim lights welcome elegant patrons and tourists who frequent this address all year long, making it a popular dining venue. They most probably end-up sitting at a table where world-famous artists once had a cup of coffee or a light meal… Prices have soared, but the general setting hasn’t changed much. The tables have labels with the name of famous clients engraved, be they artists like Paul Verlaine, Man Ray, Oscar Wild or politicians like Vladimir Lénine.

The Closerie, as Parisians like to call it, opened at the end of the 19th century. It was one of the few cafés in the Montparnasse area. It soon gained a large popularity thanks to its proximity with the “Bal Bullier”, a dancing hall surrounded by lilacs and popular among penniless artists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Verlaine, Pablo Picasso, André Gide, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Emile Zola.

In the 1930s, with the prohibition in effect in the US, American artists flowed to France, attracted by its fiendish reputation and affordable life. They gathered in the Montparnasse district and made theirs restaurants like the Rotonde, the Select or the Closerie. Ernest Hemingway liked to go to the Closerie in the afternoon after his lonesome walks in the nearby Luxembourg gardens. As he wrote in A Moveable Feast:

“The only decent café on our neighborhood was la Closerie des Lilas, and it was one of the best cafés in Paris. It was warm in the winter and the terrace was lovely in the spring and fall…».

Scott Fitzgerald, whom he often met there, asked him to read his manuscript of “the Great Gastsby” while they were having a cup of coffee at the terrace.

Today, the Closerie keeps on attracting artists. The restaurant even awards literary prizes to French writers once a year, in order to perpetrate the tradition. After surrealism, Dadaism or Cubism, what will be the next form of art to be fostered at the Closerie?

The Closerie des Lilas

171, boulevard du Montparnasse

75006 Paris

+33 1 40 51 34 50

Lunch menu at 48€

Dish at ~40€

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