The Latte Generation

cafe with wallace fountainThere are a few special places in Paris that need little introduction – the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, a handful of parks and, I’d argue, the literary institution Shakespeare & Company. cafeBut I’ll give you a little background anyway. When it was owned by American expat Sylvia Beach in the 1920s-1930s, it was a magnet for the period’s literary greats, from Hemingway to Fitzgerald and Joyce. It shuttered during the Nazi occupation and only reopened in 1951, when George Whitman, another American, took over the space. Under Whitman’s charge, the bookshop continued to be a draw for writers (Langston Hughes, Anais Nin, James Baldwin) who came to work, hangout and eventually present their work. When he passed away, his daughter Sylvia took the reigns and has grown the business ever since. That one bookshop with such legacy has been so fervently protected and cared for is a testament to Sylvia’s love for the space; what it symbolizes within her family and for so many readers and writers around the world.

I had a chance to stop by this morning for opening day of its new cafe and instantly ran into Sylvia Whitman and her husband David Delannet, the duo who took George Whitman’s archival drawings and plans and made them a reality. The space has a handful of countertop seats and a few tables (more seating outside on benches) and is poised to become a destination of its own in no time. If you find yourself browsing at Shakespeare & Company next door and feel like you need a boost, pop by the cafĂ© for cake and a cuppa. While it has preserved quite a number of original features, from retro floor tiles on one side blend into the new, concrete floor on the other, the exposed stone was brushed and cleaned and the garage door from the previous space has been repurposed to enclose the bathroom – the space feels considerably more modern than the adjacent bookshop. “It felt right to bring it into the future a bit”, Sylvia told me this morning “but the past is very much still here!”

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