Boulevard du Montparnasse in the 20s was the bohemian place to gather in Paris. In Montparnasse you would find all the writers and poets, all the wannabe writers and poets, their supporters, the artist, the dreamers. The "lost generation" was coined by Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway used it in The Sun Also Rises. (And yes, I also reread it while staying at my hotel in Montparnasse the first few days I was in Paris because you gotta get in the vibe). The lost generation refers to the inter-war period between the two world wars when everyone was confused and concerned, exchange rates were great in Paris, and everyone wanted to enjoy life and romance. Artists and lovers flocked here and they all congregated around the cafes of Montparnasse.
Nowadays, it's a nice place to get a cafe, but the see-and-be-seen has more or less departed the area. You won't catch Joseph Kessel eating glass or Kiki de Montparnasse dancing naked these days (but if you do see someone trying to bring back the era, please let me know asap).
La Rotonde is an iconic cafe of this era. It opened in 1911 and became the hangout of Picasso and Modigliani, who would introduce himself as "painter and Jew". The owner, Victor Libion, would often let starving artists pay their way out of their bill with a painting or drawing to hang on the wall, so the brassiere was covered with artists works.
(Most recently, Emmanuel Macron and his crew celebrated here after the first round of the French presidential elections this year).
Ah, Le Dome. Now a michelin starred seafood restaurant (I can personally attest to this), it used to be a renowned intellectual gathering place. There was even a term for the people that hung out here: the Dômiers. A lot of Americans and English frequented Le Dome, making Hemingway call it a place "for American loafers". But he was even found there quite a bit... Henry Miller and Jean Paul Sartre worked at Le Dome, Max Ernst, Edith Piaf, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, Man Ray and Kiki...
Because Paris is amazing, it doesn't stop there. La Closerie des Lilas, next on our Montparnasse tour, was Hemingway's home cafe. It's where he went to work, not just to be seen. It was here, nearby his apartment, that he worked on The Sun Also Rises and where F. Scott Fitzgerald read him the draft of The Great Gatsby. (Imagine being around for that meeting!)
La Closerie des Lilas goes back far before the Lost Generation though. In the late 1800s this was the gathering spot for a group of painters known as the "intransigeants". Painters such as Bazille, Renoir, Monet, and Sisley.
I thought Le Select was adorable from far away with its neon sign, then when I got closer I saw the "American Bar" label. Ugh, fell in my own trap of trying my hardest not to be too American. Needless to say, I think I was the only American there. (Side note, they give great olives and snacks when you order a drink!).
Le Select was another frequented place by the intellectuals and artists of the period.
I've always hated that question, "If you could go back in time where would you go?" because I have absolutely no idea. But I think the Lost Generation in Paris ranks pretty highly...