Friday, June 10, 2016

Shakespeare and Co. & Cafe


Shakespeare and Co. What a sweet little book shop. Ever since I heard about this quaint place and saw it sprinkled across my Pinterest feed I knew immediately I wanted to visit. You may have recognized the shop from movies such as Midnight in Paris or Before Sunset. The first time this shop was opened was in 1919 by Sylvia Beach and during the 1920s it was a gathering place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened. 

The second shop is situated at 37 rue de la Bucherie, in the 5th arrondissement. Opened in 1951 by George Whitman, it was originally named "Le Mistral", but was renamed to "Shakespeare and Co." in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach's store. Today it serves as a regular bookstore on the first floor, a second-hand bookstore, and as a reading library on the second floor. 


The morning we visited it had began raining and was chilly and a bit windy. The shop was such a toasty, inviting place. Josh and I had so much fun browsing every little nook and cranny. These are photos from the upstairs, known as their "library", where people can come and cozy up with a book for hours. 



It is no secret that an estimated 30,000 aspiring writers have bunked at Shakespeare's over the decades, sleeping on cots and benches throughout the store in exchange for a couple of hours of work a day and a promise to spend at least some of their down time reading and writing. There is a sign posted on the wall of the shop that states, "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise." This was Whitman's philosophy when welcoming people (mostly aspiring writers) to sleep in the bookstore in the beds and couches built into the bookshelves. 

Visiting the shop was like stepping back in time to a quieter, more quaint Paris. We passed people silently reading to themselves and couches used for beds with a note telling customers that this spot was currently being inhabited. I walked to the window overlooking the Seine and could see Notre Dame in the distance. A typewriter sat on the desk for visitors to record their name for the guestbook. 


Upstairs in the reading room there is a piano for guests to use, tiny work stations equipped with typewriters, and little messages pinned to the walls left by visitors over the years. 


Outside, I discovered an old 1940s book, Edwin and Eleanor, in the bookcase. I rescued it from raindrops dripping from the canopy, took it inside, had it stamped, and then we went next door for coffee and pie. 


I learned that in the early 1960s George Whitman felt like something was missing. Soon Whitman identified the missing ingredients: coffee and lemon pie. Dude, now you're talking. The owner of the building next door wouldn't let him have the property. Every weekend, Whitman knocked on the owner's door and made his case, and every weekend he was refused. 

Whitman passed away in 2011, but then, more than a half-century after he first had the idea, his vision was finally fulfilled. His daughter, Sylvia, the current proprietor of Shakespeare and Co., (who was also named after the founder of the original bookstore) secured the next door space at last and opened the cafe in the fall of 2015. Visitors can sit at the large picture windows or sip their coffee outside while gazing up at the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. They can also take Shakespeare and Co. picnic lunches down to the banks of the Seine, where Ernest Hemingway liked to edit manuscripts. 



Books line the walls of the cafe. You can even see my honey looking over the shelves. :) I ordered a flat white and a slice of lemon pie, because, I'm obsessed with lemon anything, especially pie. I discovered later that it was George's specialty. 

There's only one way to make a good lemon pie, you know. -George Whitman, 1969 


Visiting this unique and very special bookshop and cafe were one of the highlights of my trip to Paris and I'll always look back on that rainy day as one of my favorites. Ever. 

















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