Les Deux Magots

Les Deux Magots is one of the most well-known cafés associated with the Lost Generation, yet it is not in Montparnasse. Although it is not located in the famous neighborhood, it had a large influence in the interwar period and boasts of its history and literary prestige. The café shares many similarities with the ones in Montparnasse, yet the neighborhood does make a difference.

Although Montparnasse is now remembered for being the center of the artistic and intellectual revolution of the interwar period, other spots around Paris also boast of their connection with the Lost Generation. In the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, right outside of Montparnasse, another café keeps the Expatriate’s memory alive. Les Deux Magots has been around since the 1914, and was a favorite spot for many artists and thinkers during the interwar period. The café is known for a literature prize that was started during this age of creation, and continues the legacy today.

Founded in 1812, the name of the café was taken from a novelty shop that once was in the same location. This store was named Les Deux Magots after two Chinese figurines that still are displayed in the café. It was relocated and refurbished into the café setting it is known for in 1914. Although it is one of the oldest cafés in Paris, it is most widely known for its role during the interwar period. Due to its closeness to Montparnasse, and the appeal of café culture, Les Deux Magots became a favorite of many artists and writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre and André Breton. The café became such a known hub for the writers that a literature prize was started in 1933. This prize, named the Prix des Deux Magots, is given to a French novel every year, and tends to look at more unconventional stories (Les Deux Magots). This was in response to Prix Goncourt, which was the major literature prize at the time, but focused mostly on academic works. It continues today as one of France’s major literature awards, and awards a cash prize of roughly 8,000 euros to the winner. This is just one example of how the café maintains its connection to the literary world.

Today the café keeps its history a very important part of the experience, by covering the walls with photos of the expats, and maintaining 1930’s décor. There are still the two large Chinese figurines looking over the room, as a symbol of the name. Beyond their literature prize, which is still awarded every year, the café keeps up its artistic image with bookshelves along a wall, and a monthly literature magazine, put out by the restaurant, that is available free to any customer. Through keeping up with their historical image, the restaurant has become a large tourist attraction, as people want to come to experience the expatriate’s Paris. There are lines out the door for a table at lunchtime, and the wait can be 30 minutes on an average day. Many tourists come to the café because it has kept up an idealized image of Paris, the café culture of the 1930’s. In reality, during the 30’s this café was similar to the rest, cheap and accessible. It became an artistic hub because many of the poor artists were able to buy cheap coffee and meals, and spend entire days in the café. Now, due to the success and popularization of these intellects, the café has benefitted as well. The restaurant has been able to gain popularity and prestige due to its association, and now is a high priced, upscale café.

Although this café is outside of Montparnasse, the neighborhood most closely associated with the Lost Generation, it is extremely similar to cafés in the area. Other cafés that are associated with the interwar period, Le Dôme and La Rotonde for example, have very similar characteristics to Les Deux Magots. All three have maintained their 1930’s décor and have traces of their links to the Lost Generation throughout their restaurants. All three have also become very high scale, due to their popularity being linked to the Expatriates. The clientele is all similar as well. There is a range from tourists visiting to see where the famous writers sat, to professionals at business meetings. The wide range is due to the history and legacy of the cafés, but also the names they have made for themselves. Although there are many similarities, one large difference is the location. Since Le Dôme and La Rotonde are both in Montparnasse, they do not have to emphasize their connection with the interwar period as heavily as Les Deux Magots does. The entire Montparnasse neighborhood is so associated with this generation and icons, that the individual restaurants are also immediately associated. Saint-Germain-des-Prés however is known for other characteristics, so Les Deux Magots have to emphasize their connection to stand out.

Les Deux Magots is a very special location when looking at the traces of the interwar period. It had a great influence due to its clients and the unique literary prize it created. There are differences from other cafés, due to its location outside of Montparnasse, but also many similarities. This café has maintained its care for literature and its history, while becoming a successful restaurant in Paris.