Café Les Deux Magots - History and Facts | History Hit

Café Les Deux Magots

Chris Smith

02 Sep 2021
Image Credit: Used with permission from Les Deux Magots.

About Café Les Deux Magots

A mainstay of the Parisian café scene since 1884, Café Les Deux Magots has played a prominent role in French literary circles for over a century, not least with the Prix des Deux Magots, a prize bestowed upon a French novel annually since 1933.

History of Les Deux Magots

Café Les Deux Magots’ history dates back to 1812, to a novelty and fabric shop – named after contemporary play Les Deux Magots de la Chine. In 1873, the owners moved to the current Saint-Germain-des-Prés premises, and in 1884, transformed the business into a café, retaining the name and two titular Mandarin figurines – or magots – prominently perched on the café’s central pillar.

Les Deux Magots gained popularity due to its influential literary and artistic clientele. Symbolist poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud were among the first notable visitors, but the post-World War One period was the café’s heyday.

Existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre, surrealists like André Breton, and novelists such as James Joyce would meet regularly at the café. Les Deux Magots was also a hit with American expats like James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway who wrote The Sun Also Rises at a first-floor table. Pablo Picasso also met long-time companion Dora Maar there.

Café Les Deux Magots today

Staying true to its 1930s golden age, the café retains its Art Deco interior with red seating, mahogany tables, wall-length mirrors, and chandeliers. Portraits of eminent former clients now hang on the walls with the two Mandarin figurines still taking pride of place.

Since 1933, the Prix des Deux Magots has been annually awarded to a French novel, usually an unconventional work. A free literary magazine, produced by the café, is still published and distributed to customers. Café Les Deux Magots is so world renowned that there are queues around the block every lunch time. It can take over 30 minutes to get a seat.

Getting to Café Les Deux Magots

Situated on Boulevard Saint Germain, Café Les Deux Magots offers an unrestricted view of the Abbaye de Saint-Germain, one of the city’s oldest religious buildings.

Just a two-minute walk from Saint-Germain-des-Prés station – which can be reached via Métro line 4 – the café is easily accessible. There’s no excuse for overlooking this gem next time you’re in Paris.

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