A Pilgrimage to Café Sélect in Montparnasse
During my Paris stay, a visit to Le Café Sélect was high on my to do list after reading Paris Café: The Sélect Crowd by Noël Riley Fitch. The accompanying drawings by Rick Tulka of the quirky personnel and various famous and not so famous clients who frequented Café Sélect over a 10-year period, were mesmerizing and convinced me I had to see this place.
Located on a popular corner near metro stop Vavin, Café Sélect hasn’t changed much over the years. Established in 1925, it retains its original color scheme and decor, though refreshed and updated when necessary. The awning-covered terrace is perfect for having a drink or snack and watching the action on the street. Slip inside to enjoy seating on the glassed-in terrace for a more complete meal, or choose the windowless intimate inner dining area.
I had to question our distinctive looking server if his portrait was in the Paris Cafè book. Though he has worked there for many years, he was not included in the book, but he congenially posed for us to take his photo.
Competition is great at this location with four popular cafès steps away from each other on boulevard du Montparnasse. La Coupole is directly across the street from Le Sélect, and Le Dôme is right down the block from La Coupole. La Rotonde is right down the block from Le Sélect. Each has a different personality that you can sense just by walking past. Le Sélect is smaller, modest and unpretentious and has never pretended to be anything else.
Ernest Hemingway, who wrote there and lived around the block, deemed Café Sélect “the soul of Montparnasse.” These cafés formed the social hub of the Roaring Twenties era and continue to hold their own today.
The food is good quality brasserie fare. We had a tasty lunch of grilled dorade balanced on top of flavourful ratatouille type vegetables with a red pepper sauce and sprinkling of fresh greens on top of the fish. It was artistically presented on a large white plate with the Sélect logo, an artist smoking a pipe and carrying his portfolio. With a glass of crisp white wine it made a perfect lunch. Afterwards, we strolled a mile or less down boulevard du Montparnasse until we reached yet another iconic cafè, La Closerie des Lilas, where we had coffee in the opulent piano bar lounge.
The ambiance here is old world Paris with red leather booths, small round tables and touches of gold. Supposedly Hemingway wrote here, too, as did F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry Miller. Located just south of the Luxembourg Gardens, it’s easy to continue on into this immense park, find a seat, sit back and bask in the filtered sunlight and relaxing ambiance of Paris park life.
Café Sélect, 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris. Tel: +33 1 45 48 38 24. www.leselectmontparnasse.fr. The weekday lunch menu is 21,40 euros or order à la carte.
Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France and Falling in Love with France, both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals.
Visit Jo Anne’s website to check out her art: www.joannemarquardt.com.
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