There 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. But 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, 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.
So when I was interviewing Marc Grossman of Bob’s Bake Shop (and Bob’s Juice Bar and Bob’s Kitchen) for my book and learned he was going to be involved in the Shakespeare & Company Café – specifically, crafting the menu of sandwiches, juices, salads and literary-inspired sweets alongside coffee supplied by Parisian roaster Café Lomi – I knew it was a story I wanted to share. The project had been in the works for a very long time, largely because Sylvia wanted to honor her father’s wishes for the space, which meant waiting for the adjacent (vacant) property to be officially available.
I only had a small window of text to do so in a September issue of T Magazine (also available online HERE) but it came paired with such a beautiful illustration by Konstantin Kakanias that it seemed like the perfect way to announce such a momentous new project.
I had a chance to stop by this morning for opening day 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 café 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!”
Click for a view of the café on my Instagram page
Read my short piece in the NYT T Magazine
Read more about the legendary bookstore in this fantastic story from Vanity Fair
Learn more about the café via Paris By Mouth
Shakespeare & Company Café
37 rue de la Bûcherie