Some of the most famous novels and literary moments of all time were written and inspired by cafes in Europe. From the American ex-pat writers in Paris to Henrik Ibsen’s continental travels, cafes were a place to work while socializing, building stories, and of course, eating and drinking. If you’ve turned to coffee shops and restaurants to study instead of your room or the library, you’ll appreciate the literary significance of these 15 famous cafes.
La Rotonde (Paris, France)
One of the most famous Parisian cafes during the great American literary ex-pat era is Cafe La Rotonde, which was actually written about in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, although Hemingway’s Jake Barnes seems to lament its overwhelming popularity:
“No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde,” Hemingway wrote. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot were also patrons there.
Le Dome Cafe (Paris, France)
The very next line in Hemingway’s quote above is, “Ten years from now it will probably be the Dome.” Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse in Paris was actually the first major cafe in that area to attract ex-pats and intellectuals. La Rotonde, Le Select and La Coupole were its competitors, but the Dome is now a more established seafood restaurant, no longer catering to up-and-coming artists and writers.
Literaturnoye Kafe (St. Petersburg, Russia)
St. Petersburg’s Literary Cafe supposedly entertained many top Russian writers, including Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky, and is said to be the last cafe that poet Alexander Pushkin visited before dying in a duel.
Les Deux Magots (Paris, France)
Now a popular tourist spot, Les Deux Magots is known as Hemingway’s favorite spot in Paris. But the St. Germain-des-Pres cafe also served many other legendary writers and artists, including Rimbaud, Simone de Beauvoir, AndrÃ© Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Jean Paul Sartre, and even Picasso. It’s one of the oldest cafes in Paris, and pays tribute to its old but polished heritage in its current design and character (though is most likely more expensive than it was in Hemingway’s day).
Café Bräunerhoff (Vienna, Austria)
Like Paris, Vienna is a city dotted with cafes, many of which were home to famous writers, artists and intellectuals. The Cafe Braunerhof located near the Habsburg city palace is said to be lauded writer Thomas Bernhard’s favorite spot, and where we worked on some of the most important works in the German-speaking world after WWII.
Café de Flore (Paris, France)
Now a popular hang-out among the fashion set and other glamorous types, Cafe de Flore — principal rival to Les Deux Magots — was another office for Hemingway and his contemporaries. In 1994, Cafe de Flore began handing out its own annual literary prize — the Prix de Flore — to promising young authors of French-language literature. Besides a cash prize, the winner gets to drink a glass of the white wine Pouilly-Fume at the cafe every day for a year.
Auberge de Venise (Formerly Dingo Bar, Paris, France)
Now the restaurant Auberge de Venise, the Dingo Bar was another Montparnasse staple that opened in 1923 and catered to English and American ex-pats in Paris, like writer Djuna Barnes and publishing house owner Nancy Cunard. It’s also the spot where Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald met for the first time.
Cafe Montmartre (Prague, Czech Republic)
This cafe is actually located in Prague and was sometimes called by its nickname, Montik, or The Monty. Some of the most important writers from Germany and Czechoslovakia — like Franz Kafka, Eduard Bass and Max Brod — all came here.
Caffè Pedrocchi (Padua, Italy)
Padua’s Pedrocchi Cafe is one of the biggest cafes in the world and was known as a favorite hang-out for Lord Byron and French writer Stendhal.
Harry’s New York Bar (Paris, France)
Actually located in Paris, Harry’s New York Bar was named for its early manager, a Scotsman. It opened in 1911, and Harry was supposedly responsible for making it a legitimate ex-pat cafe during the next decade, attracting Sinclair Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, Hemingway, and others. Side tip: Harry’s New York Bar is also where the Bloody Mary was first concocted.
Antico Caffè Greco (Rome, Italy)
Situated near the Spanish Steps in a very posh area of Rome, the Antico Caffe Greco — founded in 1760 — is also the city’s most famous. Over the past centuries, writers like Lord Byron, John Keats, Henrik Ibsen and Hans Christian Andersen became patrons.
La Coupole (Paris, France)
This is another historical Montparnasse cafe, which opened in 1927, soon after Le Select, and aimed to compete against Le Dome for the expat intellectual clientele. The massive cafe could seat 600 people, including famous guests like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. La Coupole is now an official historic monument.
La Closerie des Lilas (Paris, France)
Also situated in Paris’ Montparnasse is La Closerie, which opened in 1847 and attracted everyone from Henry James to Leon Trotsky to Gertrude Stein and Hemingway, who references nearby statues and descriptions in The Sun Also Rises.
Caffè Giubbe Rosse (Florence, Italy)
One of Florence’s most famous cafes is Caffe Giubbe Rosse, named for Garibaldi’s Red Shirts, and also inspiration for the waiters’ uniforms. Celebrated for its role in producing the Futurist movement, Caffe Giubbe Rosse was also a favored spot for many notable Italian poets.
Grand Cafe (Oslo, Norway)
The Grand Hotel in Oslo is home to the Grand Cafe, a famous restaurant and meet-up. It’s where the Nobel Peace Prize banquet is held each year, and is said to be the daily lunch spot of Henrik Ibsen. Roald Dahl also stayed at the hotel during his youth.