This series will highlight our favorite cafes in Paris. But before we start sharing those picks, we need to, odd as it might seem, give you some rules of the rue for these French, and broadly, European institutions.
1) It’s hard to find a horrible cafe in Paris, unless you stick very close to major attractions. Long before Howard Schultz famously captured the “third place” concept in writing his Starbucks story Europeans had long found in cafes an outlet for friendship, social intercourse, and simply “being.” A cafe is, at heart, a place where you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like, as long as you’ve ordered something that costs money, and you’re not rude or obnoxious. Sometimes the staff are attentive, but in most European locales you will be left alone until you ask for assistance.
2) Be mindful that if you want to do some “people watching” that you are going to pay anywhere between 50-300% more for your beverage of choice. Some cafes, like les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore, which we think are “famous for being famous” offer no real upgrade from other cafes less famous for people watching. The “real” upgrade is getting to pay 8 or 9 euros for a cafe creme (French for “latte” or “flat white”) when Parisians consider 4 euros for such a beverage already on the pricey side. Realize every 20 meters you walk back from a major square or street your prices will generally decrease at least 20%.
3) Beware of top 10 lists. If you can find them, so can the entire world, and don’t forget that Paris still (rightfully, we think) retains the crown of most visited city in the world. This isn’t to say that these lists don’t have their purpose. We’ve found some real gems by using them. Just realize that the “coolest” cafe isn’t necessarily the “best” cafe. The “best cafe” in any circumstance is going to be the one that allows you to enjoy yourself, a beverage(s) of your choice, and enjoy time reading, thinking, “taking the sun,” or laughing and sharing time with friends and family.