Dreams can come true. Even if they take 50+ years, persistence in the face of obstacles, and a lot of roll-up-your-sleeves gritty hard work.
Shakespeare and Company bookstore’s legendary owner George Whitman had a passion for books, writers, and the camaraderie of community. As part of his bookstore plan, he provided a haven and creative inspiration for some of the best expat and visiting writers of the time, fed the minds of ravenous readers, and supported struggling writers and adventurers in need of a home.
But he also had an early vision for a café that would sit next to the bookstore. He even had sketches done in the 1960s to document what he was seeing in the future—where a book and a good cup of coffee (and lemon pie) would come together in a convivial, comfortable place.
“I’m going to open a literary café . . . There’s only one way to make a good lemon pie, you know.” —George Whitman, 1968
George didn’t live to see a bustling café. He died at age 98 in 2011. But his daughter Sylvia, the owner and manager of Shakespeare and Company, did not forget her father’s wish. She and her business/life partner, David Delannet, rose to all the challenges, and, this week, the café (very much as George imagined it) opened.
The new café commands the corner of rue de la Bûcherie and rue St Julien le Pauvre, and gives those sitting at the outdoor tables or the indoor counter a breathtaking view of Notre Dame.
Formerly a stationery store, the space adjacent to the bookstore was empty for 20 years. Sylvia and David finally cleared all the legal hurdles and then dove into the design and cleanup part of the project.
With their designer, Nicolas Capéran, they preserved many of the original features, like retro floor tiles and stone walls. The café does, however, have a more spacious, airy, and modern feel than the wood dominated bookstore with its warren-like passageways and “a veritable nest of books” as Lawrence Ferlinghetti described the bookstore.
As with the design, Sylvia and David were also thoughtful about the quality of food and drink. The café serves coffee with the best locally produced coffee beans (from Cafe Lomi in the 18th arrondissement) and Postcard Teas (a London-based company featuring popular and rare teas). Their partner in food is Bob’s Bake Shop, focusing on healthy, organic, largely vegetarian food. All of these choices David and Sylvia say, “share our ethos of working with small, compatible businesses.”
You’ll soon be able to order the Shakespeare Shake and The Bun Also Rises, as well as picnic baskets with wine, cheese, and a short story and afternoon English tea items such as finger sandwiches, scones, and crumpets. The menu will grow as each new addition is carefully created to maintain the quality standard.
Just as George asked anyone sleeping at Shakespeare and Company to write something before they were allowed in, work a few hours, and read a book a day, the café also offers mental stimulation in the form of its own Proust questionnaire. Thirty questions are a part of your tray placemat encouraging thoughts about the joys and challenges of life.
- What is your favorite way to spend your time?
- Who are your heroes?
- If you could spend the rest of your life with a character from a book, who would it be?
- On what occasion do you lie?
- What is your favorite smell?
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The café is a welcome addition to the Shakespeare and Company block, opening onto the stone terrace that is home to books, ideas, history, and the philosophy etched into the bookstore’s legacy.
“Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
Now strangers and angels alike can enjoy a book, good coffee, and a piece of perfect lemon pie.
The café is located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris. Current hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9h00 to 17h30 and Saturday and Sunday from 9h30 to 19h00, but check first, as the hours may change. Click here for more info about Shakespeare and Company.
Lead photo credit : The Shakespeare and Company Café, very much as envisioned by George Whitman and brought to life by Sylvia Whitman and David Delannet. © Meredith Mullins
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