Saturday, April 11, 2015

Montparnasse Cafes and Bricktop's in Paris during Jazz age

In Paris, in the 1930s, there was an abundance of musical talent. It was called the Jazz Age, an age of excess between the wars, but also an age of musical genius. Following are five examples of the best known jazz clubs or cafés.

Chez Bricktop's

You can't mention the nightclub Chez Bricktop's (1924-1961), without mentioning the owner, affectionately called 'Bricktop', because of her flaming red hair and freckles inherited from her Irish father. Born in 1894 and died in 1984, she was an American dancer, singer, vaudeville performer and self-described saloon-keeper. Her actual name was Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith. 

Paris was the magic town for Bricktop. The international set gathered there to bask in her hospitality and enjoy each other's company. The 1931 club roster read like a Who's Who in the Jazz Age: Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, who mentioned her in their writing, Sidney Bechet, Josephine BakerDjango Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Mabel Mercer, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. Cole Porter and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes all visited there. Some wrote songs for her or about her: Miss Otis Regrets by Cole Porter and Brick Top by Reinhardt and Grappelli. She continued to perform into her eighties, although her last club closed in 1961. Shortly after that, she moved back to the USA.



This area became famous in the 1920s, and by the 1930s was the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris. From 1910 to the start of WWII, Paris' artistic circles gathered in Montparnasse as an alternative to the Montmartre district which had been the intellectual breeding ground for the previous generation of artists. It was cheaper to live in Montparnasse, too.

The following four establishments were the mainstay of the literati and artistic crowd in Paris during the first part of the 20th Century. Some of them remain today. It's always worth a visit to absorb the essence of the past which may remain. Remember 'Midnight in Paris'?

Le Dome
or Cafe du Dome

Cafe du Dome at night, 2002, by Jeremy J. Shapiro

Le Dome is a restaurant in Montparnasse, Paris. From the 1900s, it was known as the intellectual gathering place for artists, and was locally called 'the Anglo-American Café'. It later evolved into a gathering place for the American literati and local artists who resided in Paris' Left Bank area


La Coupole

A brasserie in Paris in the Montparnasse district. This was a hotbed of the artistic and intellectual community in between the two wars. Cubist inspired mosaics on the pillars are listed as Historic Monuments. They are adorned with paintings by the artists of the Roaring Twenties. La Coupole is the temple of Art Deco.

A list of the names that were here at different times includes: Man Ray, Picasso, Josephine Baker, Henry Miller, Matisse, Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Patti Smith, Chagall, and Francois Mitterand. They sat at special tables and sometimes at communal tables. It was a place that made all feel welcome.


Le Select

Cafe Le Select, Montparnasse, Paris - 2011

A brasserie in Paris founded in 1923. It was another of the cafes where the artist, writers and the 'intelligentsia' of Paris met and held court. As in the other cafes mentioned in this post, it was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso.

Montparnasse may have changed a lot since the Belle Epoque, but Le Select has not.  The prices have changed and there are more tourists there now, but it is still a tribute to authentic Left Bank life, with businessmen, intellectuals and visitors stopping in to see and be seen. 


La Rotonde

Café La Rotonde in Montparnasse, by Jeremy J. Shapiro

The Café de la Rotonde is a famous café in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris. The owner would allow the destitute artists to sit for hours nursing a cup of coffee. He would also accept drawings and other art work as payment or hold them as payment or promise of payment. What he collected over time would have generated envy by museum curators.

La Rotonde was also renowned as an intellectual gathering place for artists and writers of the interwar years and has retained much of its bohemian atmosphere up to the present day. Artists and writers still gather there to discuss their art, their writing and their concerns.

Modigliani and Picasso were regulars here. Picasso paid homage to the cafe by portraying two diners in his painting, In the cafe de la Rotonde, in 1901. Many other writers and artists depicted life in the cafe in some of their works.

NOTE: This post is written as an adjunct to : 2015 A to Z Challenge, letter J for Jazz from America in France. 

Have you visited any of these cafes in Paris? Or have you heard of any of them? You have heard of The Lost Generation, and the artists and writers mentioned here?

Please leave a comment to let me know if you stopped by and if you saw the other post in the A to Z Blog Challenge. I'll reply. Thanks for visiting!


Image Credits and References:

Night at Bricktop’s: Jazz in 1930s' Montmartre

Wiki on Ada Smith, aka Bricktop

Image: Café La Rotonde in Montparnasse photographed in 2002 by Jeremy J. Shapiro

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 

Image: Cafe du Dome at night, 2002, photographed by Jeremy J. Shapiro

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Image of Le Select
Cafe Le Select, Montparnasse, Paris - 2011
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

*** The history of the Montparnasse area and the cafes La Coupole