A Cafe Culture

In London you have pub culture, in Paris it’s the café culture. Hundreds of cafes line the streets of the city. They’re great spots to meet friends for coffee or to sit by yourself and people watch.

It’s my last day in Paris and I’m feeling like a real Parisian. It’s a rainy afternoon, I’ve got my French newspaper, and I decide to stop in to Café de Flore. It’s a well-known café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, right next to Les Deux Magots. Years before I was born, this was the place for artists and intellectuals. Sitting at the small table by the window I imagined I could be in the same spot where people like John-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus discussed philosophy.

An older waiter came over carrying a silver tray. “Un café, s’il vous plait,” I said. “Oui,” he responded. Somehow I felt he could still tell I’m not a real Parisian. Minutes later my espresso arrived, along with a small piece of solid dark chocolate and a packet of sugar. It reminded me of my first trip to France with my family, when I was 7. My sister, who at the time was 4, and I would play with the sugar cubes at restaurants while waiting for our food. Each restaurant had its own wrapper for the sugar cubes. We’d take one from each restaurant. By the end of our trip had quite the colorful collection. The sugar at Café de Flore is in a wide, white packet, not a fancy looking cube – not worth saving. There’ve only been two worth saving so far – a thin packet with the recognizable logo from Les Deux Magots, and bright pink sugar cubes from Fauchon.

While the cups of coffee have been abundant and have always tasted good, it’s been harder to find a good tasting glass of wine. It seems most people order bottles or half bottles, so some of the wines by the glass taste like they’ve been open for a day or so.

I found my favorite glass of wine (and favorite wine of the entire trip) at a place called Willi’s Wine Bar. I thought a place with ‘wine bar’ in its name would be a good place to find a good glass of wine.

Willi’s Wine Bar is located near the Palais Royal, on Rue des Petits Champs in the first arrondissement. It was opened in 1980 and named after the owner’s dog. They had a fairly extensive list of wines by the glass from all over France, and the good vintages weren’t only reserved for full bottles. I ordered a glass of the 2001 Chateau Issan from Margaux. I wasn’t familiar with the wine, but it tasted delicious. The blend of cabernet and merlot was a dark red color. It had ripe red fruit on the nose, the taste of blackberries and black currants, followed by a finish of tobacco and cloves with soft tannins. Definitely a wine I’d like to drink again.