Les Deux Magots is a famous café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It is a popular tourist destination that once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city.
The name originally belonged to a fabric and novelty shop at nearby 23 Rue de Buci.
The shop used to sell silk lingerie and took its name from a popular play of the moment (19th century) entitled ‘Les Deux Magots de la Chine’ (Two Figurines from China.). You can meet them in form of two wooden statues inside the café.
The present manager, Catherine Mathivat, is a great-great-granddaughter of Auguste Boulay who bought the café in 1914, when it was on the edge of bankruptcy.
The café is portrayed in several films and paintings and also mentioned in many literature works (the best-known is Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’).
The café started its life with the beginning of the 19th century. At first it was a silk lingerie shop located at Rue de Buci. About sixty years after its foundation the business transferred to its current location in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A decade later the business changed into a café and liquor bar, keeping the name.
Its historical reputation derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway (who used to live in Paris in the 1920s). Other famous patrons included writer Albert Camus and painter Pablo Picasso.
Since the time of World War I the café has belonged to Auguste Boulay (who helped it dealing with insolvency) and his descendants. The interwar period made Les Deux Magots a place where the greatest personages of art could be found drinking coffee, working on their creations and disputing each other.
In 1972 a well-known Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal carried out a grenade attack on the café.
The café is located at Boulevard Saint-Germain, whose construction was the part of Haussmann’s Renovation of Paris. When you sit on the café’s terrace you can admire the magnificent look of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Haussmann’s Renovation of Paris was a modernisation programme of Paris commissioned by Napoleon III and led by the Seine prefect, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, in the second half of the 19th century. The program has changed the city’s look more than café’s interior changed through the years. It is taken in by two massive wooden figurines of Chinese mandarins. These two remember the times when it was just the lingerie shop. Also the décor hasn’t changed much since it was created when the café moved into its actual location.