Today, you might see actors or other celebrities enjoying expensive beverages and desserts at the Café de Flore, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was full of writers, artists, philosophers, and even prostitutes. These people didn’t have a regular workflow, thus the Café de Flore became their workspace. They worked and ate breakfast, chatted amongst friends over lunch, and then lunch became dinner. Many creative minds worked and ate together, contributing to the world from their terrasse view.
The author Charles Maurras penned his work Au signe de Flore in this space during the late 19th century, an influential book that promoted a right-wing political movement. The Café de Flore remained a haven for intellectuals during both World Wars. It was completely untouched by German occupation. Guillaume Apollinaire, a writer and founder of surrealism, found that haven. He and Andrew Salmon made the Café their own publishing house where they created the literary art magazine Les Soirées de Paris, championing cubism in its pages. Some say the word “surrealist” was invented in the large main floor room of the Café. Pablo Picasso also frequented the café. After the war, many intellectuals such as the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir continued to visit the Café. Though it is difficult to tell if he preferred the Flore to its rival across the boulevard, Les Deux Magots, Jean-Paul Sartre spent many days here, engaging in rigorous intellectual conversations.
The environment in the mid 20th century was social and robust. You can imagine the exchanging of manuscripts between passionate poets and authors, and the heated debates between philosophers. The Café created a family, knit together by their creativity and brilliance. To commemorate its literary history, the Café de Flore established its own literary award called Prix de Flore, in 1994. Today, the café retains its private club atmosphere, but it is now expensive with a pretentious atmosphere. Café de Flore’s historical reputation of housing celebrities has shut out the new crowd of world influencers but tourists are still drawn by its colorful past. Strangely, the impoverished writers today work in carbon copy Starbucks. Instead of socializing afterward, they stare blankly at screens. It’s difficult to imagine Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, lounging in a Starbucks. While only the ghosts of these great minds remain, the Café de Flore lives on.