At the corner of the Rue Vavin in Montparnasse, the Le Select opened as an instant success in 1925 by the Pléget family. It served as a meeting place for intellectuals, artists, writers, dancers and other creative types during the interwar period and remains open today. It was a watering hole for expatriates and artists in Montparnasse after the artistic exodus from Montmartre.
Le Select is a brasserie, unlike other more formal restaurants in the immediate area. It also became a popular meeting place because it remained open and served alcohol twenty-four hours a day. Le Select was the first café in Montparnasse to remain open all night, an attractive quality to the party loving contingent of creatives and expatriates in Montparnasse.
During the day, the Le Select’s art deco decor and vintage mirrored walls attracted intellectual activity and discussion. Parisian Historian Noel Riley Fitch described it as a place for “people who want to be alone but need company for it.” The waiters were known to be patient with their guest, allowing them to occupy a table for hours at a time. Writers such as Henri Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were known to use the café as a place to write. Picasso, Cocteau, Max Jacob all sat at the Select’s terrace to have heated intellectual debates. Man Ray, Derain, Matisse and Foujita were also know to frequent the café and other artists such as Stuart Davis, Isamu Noguchi, Jo Davidson, and Alexander Calder were known to have been occasional patrons.
During the night, the Le Select attracted the heavy-drinking that is synonymous with the expatriates of the interwar period in Paris. Elliot Harold Paul, was an American journalist and author described the scene: ‘The Montparnassians sleep in the morning and in the afternoon and spend the evening and the neo-evening, up to the rising hour for ashmen and concierges, upon the terraces of the Dôme, the Rotonde, the Select, and other neighboring cafés. They have dark circles under their eyes, have read parts of Ulysses, and are likely to be self-made Freudians.’ Of course Hemingway was known to be a frequent visitor during the evenings for drinks, along with other writers such as Robert McAlmon, Harold Stearns and Morley Callaghan. The nightlife at Le Select is perhaps epitomized by the instance of when the writer, Hart Crane, was thrown into jail after the bar’s proprietor, Mademoiselle Jalbert, called the police for either brawling or refusing to pay his bill. The Paris police beat Crane bloody before dragging him face down along Boulevard du Montparnasse and he still returned to the café for more nights of rowdy behavior. There are many anecdotes that cement Le Select’s place in history as a hot bed of creative activity and excitement in the interwar years. One evening, modern dancer, Isador Duncan once threw a saucer across Le Select during a in a fit of rage in a political argument. Kiki de Montparnasse needed an escort while kicking up her skirts.
Le Select’s legacy is also cemented into history through its cameos in novels. Le Select was one of the primary Paris settings in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. The characters frequent the café along with the Dôme, the Rotonde, and other hot spots of the Lost Generation. The Sun Also Rises was published a year after Le Select’s opening, attesting to the immediate success of the establishment. The characters go to Le Select four times through the novel and it is often mentioned in conversation between characters. In The Sun Also Rises, protagonist Jake Barnes goes there with Lady Brett Ashley, and in another scene, Jake runs into a character called Harvey Stone, who admits he hasn’t “had anything to eat for five days,” and discusses the literary scene. Jake also meets a old acquaintance named Harry Stone, and details the Le Select’s new position in the social scene in conversation with him:
“"What do you do nights, Jake?" asked Krum. "I never see you around.” "Oh, I'm over in the Quarter.” "I'm coming over some night. The Dingo. That's the great place, isn't it?” "Yes. That, or this new dive, The Select.””
Jean Rhys also used Le Selct as a background in her novel Quartet, in 1928. In the scene the main character Marya has an uncomfortable moment with her lover Heidler and his wife Lois.
The casual atmosphere and long hours at Le Select attracted creative types across mediums. It has welcomed the likes Samuel Beckett to James Baldwin to Ossip Zadkine. Is is still run today by the third generation of the Pléget family and it is still frequented by creative types, such as Wes Anderson.