Find enchantment and coffee in this Parisian bookstore

Find enchantment and coffee in this Parisian bookstore

by Courtney Woodruff
Stripes Europe

By the time we made it to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore — the last stop on our list of must-visit places after a long day of sightseeing in Paris — I was physically aching for an invigorating cup of hot coffee. I couldn’t wait to browse the bookshelves while breathing in the scent of aged paper and bindings, but I felt like I might fade away before I got the chance if I didn’t caffeinate … and quickly!

I was pleased to discover the well-known shop had finally achieved its long-time dream of opening a café right next door. I can’t think of a more perfect place to enjoy a cup of joe in the heart of Paris than in this literary paradise set on the banks of the Seine with Notre-Dame in view.

A brief history of the bookshop 
Shakespeare and Company has a quirky and fascinating history. First opened as Le Mistral in 1951 by founder George Whitman, the bookstore changed its name in April 1964 on William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. The shop’s new brand paid homage to the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which opened in 1919 and was popular with famous ex-pat writers, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In turn, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Wright and Henry Miller were among the first customers to visit Whitman’s new store.

Over the years, more than 30,000 wandering writers and artists have been welcome to spend the night in the bookstore in exchange for helping out in the shop for a few hours. Whitman fondly referred to this group of patrons as Tumbleweeds, and he asked each one to read one book a day in addition to submitting an original one-page autobiography. Today, the store archives have a collection of thousands of personal stories on file. To learn more interesting tidbits, read “Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart.”

Shakespeare and Company Café (Note: Currently the cafe is only doing takeaway due to COVID-19 restrictions. Check their website for updates.)
Opened in the fall of 2015, Shakespeare and Company’s café is a dream come true for the late Whitman. Owners went in search of the best locally roasted beans to offer customers. The menu boasts a selection of coffee beverages, teas and fresh-squeezed juices in addition to fresh, organic and vegetarian dishes and pastries, including Whitman’s favorite lemon pie. Indoor and outdoor seating is available Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit

I delighted in one of the best soy lattes I’ve ever had while my husband savored an espresso in a tiny cup with slow sips. Together, we watched artists make careful sketches of the cathedral from their window seats inside the café — a truly magical Parisian experience.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without picking up a few books from the shop. I chose “Jane Eyre” for me, “The Hobbit” for our boys and a Napoleon Bonaparte biography as a gift to our travel companions.

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