The Rotonde in the Montparnasse district of Paris is arguably the most famous café of the 20th century, which means it may be the world’s most famous café ever. Catering to the shapers of culture during the modernist period between World War I and World War II, the Rotonde welcomed the most famous ex-patriots from the Western world.
Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Diego Rivera, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Edgar Degas and Henry Miller were all customers here. And this is just the short list.
Hemingway even mentions the Café de la Rotonde in one of his greatest novels, Sun Also Rises.
“No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.”
The stacks of saucers that kept track of the drinks served there must have been epic judging by the way Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway recall their days trekking through Paris, conversing, writing, thinking, and writing more.
You can still get coffee (and much more) at the Rotonde. The lights are on and the doors are open, in that curious European way we admire and puzzle over, from noon to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 11 p.m.
Opened in 1911, the Rotonde is an enduring cultural locale, but it started out as an affordable place to eat and drink, as you will see when you read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Yet, the high-class kids went there too, as in Sun Also Rises. Seems like exactly the kind of mix that leads to productive (and perhaps wild) conversations that just might feed into some art.