We decided to go to Saint Germaine for dinner because it was a nice night and we chose Deux Magots since we had both heard of it. Les Deux Magots has an esteemed cultural history as one of the top haunts for Paris’ elite philosophers, artists and intellectuals. Some of the most influential writers of the 20th Century have frequented its window seats at one time or another including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Prévert and Ernest Hemingway. Naturally they are all gone now but Saint Germaine is a nice area and the café sits in a picturesque location opposite the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris. The Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933.
The tower is all that remains of the Abbey of Saint-Germaine-des-Prés. In 512 AD Saint Germaine, who would later become bishop of Paris, convinced the Merovingian king Childebert to build an abbey with a church. The church, which held important relics, was dedicated to Saint Vincent and the holy cross. Around the year 1000 the reconstruction of the church started, and it was eventually dedicated in 1163. During the late Middle Ages a number of additional buildings were erected at the Benedictine abbey complex, which grew into one of the largest and most important in all of France. Until the late 17th century, the Abbey owned most of the land in the Left Bank west of the current Boulevard Saint-Michel and had administrative autonomy in it, most clearly for the part outside the walls of Paris. During the French Revolution the abbey was used as a warehouse. A large explosion of gun powder that was stored in the refectory destroyed almost all of the abbey. The church's current appearance is the result of a renovation in the 19th century, when architect Victor Baltard and painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin were asked to restore the church.
The name of the café “Les Deux Magots” (two Chinese figurines) comes from a fabic and novelty shop that once occupied the same premises. When the business was sold in 1914, they kept the name, Les Deux Magots de la Chine. These two statues apparently came from the novelty store and no one was thinking of the English connotations of the name at the time.
One block down is Café Flore, another famous literary café in St Germaine. The Prix de Flore, a literary prize inaugurated by Frédéric Beigbeder in 1994, is awarded annually at the Café de Flore. In his essay “A Tale of Two Cafes” and his book Paris to the Moon, American writer Adam Gopnik mused over the possible explanations of why the Flore had become, by the late 1990s, much more fashionable and popular than its rival, Les Deux Magots, despite the fact that the latter cafe was associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and other famous thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s. I personally like Deux Magots because of the location and better terrace seating.
Just down the street the other way, opposite the church is this statue of Prometheus by Zadkine (Prométhée). Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) was a cubist sculptor and painter whose works mark many Paris public areas (adjacent to Cafe Deux Magots and in the Luxembourg Gardens). His former home and studio is now the Musée Zadkine in the St Germaine area. To me, the legs look a little like a futurist statue.
So finally to the food, we both had gazpacho for an entrée. The balsamic on top was a nice touch. I had the duckling breast and Lisa had a Caeser salad. We ordered some Parisian haricot verts on the side. My duck was tender really nice sauce. The waiter was great, we even chatted a bit about photography. It was getting a little cold so we shared some chocolate chaud which was warm and delicious. The bill was about 120€ which is about average for the neighborhood. We liked the restaurant, mostly because of the history and the great location although the food was excellent, we would come back.
Deux Magots Website: http://www.lesdeuxmagots.fr/en/ambiances.php
Café de Flore: http://www.cafedeflore.fr/
Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés: http://www.eglise-sgp.org/site_v3/wordpress/