Paris: an Ernest Hemingway bar crawl
- Recommended for:
- Cultural, Food and Drink, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range
Hanging out in grand cafes, browsing bookshelves and knocking back mean martinis - here’s how to combine a trip to Paris with a tour round the haunts of Hemingway and other 20th-century cultural icons
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
So said Ernest Hemingway in his posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast. Hemingway first arrived in Paris in 1921 with a young wife and the big intention to become a great writer. Our arrival was by Eurostar (eurostar.com), with the intention of taking in some of Papa’s haunts and whatever else we fancied looking at along the way.
Despite later pleading poverty, the Hemingways set themselves up at the Hotel Jacob, now the Hotel D'Angleterre (44 Rue Jacob) and fell into the “Lost Generation” of expatriate writers and artists revolving around Gertrude Stein and her lover Alice B Toklas. However, at €200 for a room, we decided on somewhere a bit cheaper and settled on the Hotel de la Havane (€90 a night for a double), which was conveniently located within walking distance of the Gare du Nord.
Bags dropped off, we set off for the artists' quarter of the Left Bank and Notre-Dame. Since it was on our way, we could not resist taking a look inside the wonderful medieval church of the Sainte-Chapelle (2 blvd du Palais; admission €8). The Sainte-Chapelle was originally built by Louis IX to house the relics he purchased from the Byzantines while off crusading. These items included the genuine crown of thorns, part of the true cross and drops of Christ's blood. Whatever the dubious provenance of his purchases, the ground floor is quite stunning, with its vaulted painted ceiling and arches. But nothing prepares you for the staggering beauty of the upper chapel, lit by 15 13th-century stained-glass windows. The whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation is sublimely illustrated through the 15-metre-tall windows.
Leaving the Sainte-Chapelle, we crossed the Seine and soon found the renowned English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company (37 rue de la Bûcherie). Sadly, it’s no longer in the same building where Hemingway borrowed books from the original owner, Sylvia Beach, but it's still packed to the rafters with second-hand books, and putting up skint students and artists in return for a little work.
Papa, as Hemingway was later named by the infamous Key West Mob in their marlin-fishing days, was never one to shy away from a bar-room brawl, and his visits to Parisian bars with the argumentative but wimpy James Joyce would often end with Joyce exclaiming, “Deal with him, Hemingway. Deal with him."
We thought better of tearing up the town quite like that, as we wandered down St Germain to Les Deux Magots (6 pl St-Germain-des-Prés), where Hemingway often drank with the expat literary and artistic set. Picasso picked up girls here and other regulars included Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine and André Breton.
After a restorative (if, at €7, expensive) pastis, we moved next door to the magnificent Art Deco Café de Flore (172 blvd St Germain; +33 1 45 48 55 26), another Hemingway haunt that was also frequented by Albert Camus, Trotsky and Salvador Dali. Jean-Paul Sartre may have had time to write The Roads to Freedom here in the 1940s, but we were unable to get a table as it was incredibly busy, and so made do with a sneaky look around.
As a starving writer, Hemingway claimed that he trapped feral pigeons for the pot in the Jardin du Luxembourg. That really wasn’t for us, so we hopped on the Métro to Montmartre to dine at our favourite Parisian restaurant, Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre). Complete with gilded mirrors and dark wood panelling, this former workers' canteen is everything the Café Rouge chain would like to be, only for real. Chartier does not take bookings, so get there early to avoid the queue that will be snaking out of the door by 8pm. Once inside, you can find yourself sharing a table with complete strangers as the waiter scribbles your order on the tablecloth. The food is simple French cooking, tasty and plentiful. Our very own immovable feast, consisting of an aperitif, starters, steak frites, cheese, coffee, wine and liqueurs, came in at a bargain €97 for three of us.
Well stuffed, we headed for a nightcap at Harry's New York Bar (5 rue Daunou) in the Opéra district. Decked out in American sporting memorabilia, this dark wood-panelled bar opened in 1911. This is where the Americans in Paris hung out, and was a great favourite with Hemingway and F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. George Gershwin is said to have been inspired to compose a certain piece later danced by Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron here. I don’t know about that, but the white-coated waiters do mix a fearsome gin martini. Cocktails are about €7.50.
The Ritz Paris (15 pl Vendôme) was the scene of perhaps Hemingway’s most audacious act. In August 1944, as a war correspondent with the Allied army advancing on Paris, he raced ahead in a commandeered Jeep to personally liberate the luxury hotel. Mostly from the bar, so the legend has it. It's not for the faint-hearted, as a night at the Ritz starts at €605! Not for us, then. And so, the following morning, as The Sun Also Rises, we take our leave, bidding the Paris of Papa farewell.