American Influence

Montparnasse today has visible traces of the impact American Expatriates left behind. Many popular cafés and bars, such as La Coupole and the Rosebud both boast of their American influences and consciously show these.

The expatriates defined Montparnasse in the interwar period, and the neighborhood grew with their legacy. The two are intertwined with each other and have left large influences on one another. After World War I, many artists and intellects were confused and angry with the shape of the world, and many Americans came to Paris for the creative expression that the city was known for. These expatriates, or now known as the Lost Generation, were mostly poor artists and a great deal of them settled in Montparnasse. Montparnasse had cheap housing and a very active café scene, which facilitated the sharing of ideas between the thinkers. Among the Americans that moved to Paris were Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot and many others. These writers, poets and artists all became associated with each other, through their interactions in Montparnasse, and were able to share ideas and create a bond with each other. Such a large group of now famous intellects all lived, worked and partied together in Montparnasse, that the neighborhood is now closely associated with this group. These stories of parties in 1930’s Montparnasse have been spread through American culture so much so that this has become an idealized version of Paris for many Americans today.

Montparnasse in 2018 is a very touristy location, with many cafés using 1930’s themes and expatriate connections to bring in costumers. When many Americans picture Paris, they think of the cafés and nightlife of the 1930’s, because that is what is portrayed in movies and novels of Americans in Paris. Montparnasse continues this theme and gives tourists their idealized vision of Paris, but in a high-class manner. While the actual expats lived in a poor neighborhood, in small apartments, Montparnasse today is a high-end area. Americans come to recreate the Lost Generation, yet the neighborhood is no longer what it used to be. This is due to the success of the artists of the interwar period. As their fame and popularity grew, so did Montparnasse’s, as the two are so closely linked. The neighborhood became famous, and benefitted from these icons.

Since Montparnasse and the Lost Generation are so closely linked, they have left large influences on one another. There are many famous cafés in the area that promote being American, including La Coupole, Le Select, and the Rosebud. La Coupole was founded in 1927, in the height of the Roaring Twenties. Started by two former managers of Le Dôme, it was the largest restaurant in Paris at the time. The main floor was a high scale restaurant, while the basement was a dance hall. This café was soon a favorite to the Montparnasse artists, including James Joyce, Man Ray, Josephine Baker, Picasso and many more. This restaurant presents itself as an American Bar, with a mix of different food, everything from American lobster to Indian Curry being their specialties. The inside is still decorated in its original 1930’s Art Deco, which it is very well known for. The pillars and dome, painted by famous Montparnasse artists in 1927, have put the building on the list of French Historical Monuments. Following the Art Deco style, these pillars feature paintings of famous names from the interwar period, such as Josephine Baker and Georges Duhamel. Today, La Coupole is still a very high-end restaurant, and continues to show its American influence. They have added to the sign on the building, “Bar Americain”, which promotes its connection to the Americans who made it famous. The art inside still remains, and has been added to in the 21st century with the painting of the large dome inside the building. This restaurant continues to boast its history and connection to the expatriates with pictures of them on the walls, the traditional 1930’s décor, and an entire history section on its website.

Unlike many of the other cafés in Montparnasse, La Coupole started as a more high-scale luxury restaurant. It appealed to the richer crowds and did not accommodate for the poor up and coming artists as well as the other cafés did. It remains the same today, with high priced meals and high-end clientele. La Coupole was a very important meeting place and site of leisure for many artists at the time, and continues today to show its history while becoming a renowned restaurant.

The Rosebud bar is another example of American influence that still exists in Montparnasse. This bar advertises itself as “American” and although it was founded in the 1960's, it attempts to recreate an interwar period vibe. It is a jazz bar with an authentic speakeasy that attempts to keep the spirit of the 1930’s alive. They serve cocktails and have jazz playing over the speakers. This is one example of how the neighborhood still is influenced by the Americans who helped make it famous.

There are many other cafés, restaurants and bars that have a large American influence in Montparnasse. Some of these have been around since the interwar period, and boast of their connection to the icons of the neighborhood. The large American influence came right with the move of Americans to Montparnasse, and these cafés and bars show how influential these artists and thinkers were.

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