May 25 2010
Of all the great Parisian Left Bank cafés, the beautiful La Closerie des Lilas, at the top of the Boulevard du Montparnasse, has long been one of my favourites. I first went there as an impecunious student in the 1970s, intrigued to see what Hemingway had described in A Moveable Feast as “one of the best cafés in Paris”. You won’t see many students there nowadays, or struggling authors for that matter, but if you avoid the tourists in high summer you will still find a sophisticated and cosmopolitan ambience buzzing with conversation.
Sitting outside under the trees is fun but in the evenings it’s even better to be inside on a stool in the Piano Bar where jazz is played every night and they carry on serving until 1am. I well remember using the bar telephone to ring through a Sunday-morning bet to an English bookmaker – this was in the days before everyone carried mobile phones – on the 1988 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Fortunately the horse won.
If you want to eat, the Brasserie menu is simpler but just as good as the main restaurant and features such classic staples as fabulous Marennes oysters from the Oloron Basin, a drop-dead steak tartare and profiteroles bathed in the freshest and hottest chocolate sauce. Friday and Saturday nights are particularly busy; you can’t book in the Brasserie, but if you have a drink at the bar first they will usually seat you within about 15 or 20 minutes.