Over the past 140 years, many things have changed at 6 Place Saint-Germain, but the spirit of the literary café has withstood the test of time, its style untarnished and intact, by virtue of details that have become beloved objects, nostalgic landmarks. Here’s a guided tour.


At the top of a column, two Chinese figures in traditional garb gaze down with amused expressions onto the café tables below them. These are the deux magots of the establishment’s appellation. People today find it almost unthinkable to connect these two orientalist statues with the café’s name. The French word magot was used to represent an Asian merchant.

L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans
L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans


These days, who in France still uses the word magot other than to talk about stashed treasure ? Little matter. It evolved. So, while the café’s name was inspired by a trendy play of that time featuring Chinese merchants, there is no shortage of treasure in the history of Les Deux Magots. Starting with the treasures sold in the silk and novelty store that opened in 1813.


In 1884, the Les Deux Magots’ cash register began ringing up sales for the café-liqueur bar it had become, swapping bolts of shimmering silks for rounds of absinthe served to literary freethinkers. It persisted in this business when Mr. Auguste Boulay, an ancestor of the current owner, decided to turn the gloomily lit restaurant into a bright, modern café in 1914.


He called on architect Gérard du Bois d’Auberville, for the Art Deco-inspired interior décor. The rich woodwork and enormous mirrors gleamed in the natural light that could fi nally illuminate the interior via the large glass roofs and generous windowscaping. Auguste also opened the site’s first (small) terrace ! His daughter Suzanne pursued this esthetic line until 1985, when her son, Jacques, a public works engineer, took over management of Les Deux Magots.


Jacques then began morphing the location into a café-restaurant, purchasing the physical premises. The two magots, the counter, and the woodwork are still there. He installed wrought-iron verandas, a terrace, and even a sidewalk garden with seating. Thus began his irrepressible expansion into the outside world that his daughter, Catherine, would soon pursue further with a takeout concept in Paris.

L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans
L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans


In the meantime, the whole world still flocks to the Café des Deux Magots that has forged its own legend, admired by a public that now extends far beyond the confines of Saint-Germain-des-Prés to lands like Japan, Brazil, the Middle East. With the fourth generation at the helm in the form of Catherine Mathivat and her staff, Les Deux Magots continues to export its literary spirit in the signature decorative elements found at their international locations : the iconic green, the rattan chairs, even the identically reproduced statues. Evolution without all-out revolution, all in the name of good taste.


Photos credits : © Sébastien Dubois-Didcock ; © Hélène Roger-Viollet / Roger-Viollet ; © Sébastien Dubois-Didcock ; © Gihad Arabi

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