Sunday, June 13, 2010

Never Mind the Hype, Café Deux Magots Worth a Visit

Every city has its overrun tourist destinations. New York has the Empire State, Rome the Colosseum, and Sydney its opera house. And after these iconic sites exist a bunch of next-tier, but often similarly-overrun spots. While many travelers choose to avoid such attractions, some find enough authenticity in the spots to make them worth a visit.

Paris’ Café Deux Magots, one of the City of Light’s famous and historic cafés, is just such a place.

During a recent reading of Julia Child's biography, I was reminded of the Latin Quarter standby. Like the famous American chef, I consider the Left Bank café a favorite.

Child, who visited the café on her first Saturday in Paris, admired the morning sun striking the chimneypots of the city’s grand apartment houses while she and her husband ate buttery croissants and drank café complet.

Many tourists visit the institution for its history: Hemingway, Sartre, and hundreds of writers, artists, poets and glitterati sipped a coffee, wine or beer at one of the small wooden tables in the high ceilinged rooms indoors—under the sage gaze of two Eastern Magi statues—or al fresco at one of the even tinier sidewalk tables in traditional wicker café chairs.

Deux Magots has changed little since it opened in 1914, though its prices no longer allow for many struggling artists to visit. If you balk at paying inflated prices for breakfast, consider that your check includes entry to a historic destination as well an amusement park ride for adults. And unlike the rides at Six Flags, the experience here lasts as long as you’d like—you can sit at your table and sip your coffee or wine for twenty minutes or two hours.

And then there’s the food—the incomparable croissants and baguettes, the pastries, the eggs, but most of all, the coffee. Order it plain, as an espresso, au lait or a cappuccino and whatever you sip will rock your world.

Café-sitting in the Left Bank offers manifold pleasures. The world comes to Paris but the city seemingly could care less as its citizens ebb and flow along its streets like colorful, ever-shifting tides. Sure, you might see a movie star stroll past, but the real pleasure is observing life.

Sip a flavorful coffee and catch a glimpse of a dead ringer for Catherine Deneuve being led by three French bulldogs on the sidewalk and suddenly, eighteen euro for a continental breakfast seems a bargain.


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