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Iconic works that were born in cafes and restaurants

20200930 Place du Forum Arles
In Arles, the cafe Van Gogh depicted in his iconic painting “Cafe Terrace at Night” in 1888. Image: Bérangère Chatelain via AFP Relaxnews.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, certain cities have been required to close down bars and restaurants, with the new restrictions in Marseille making headlines across the country. Cafe culture has long been associated with life in France, but in many countries, cafes are more than places to have a libation and socialize. They have been the birthplace of major iconic cultural works.

J.K. Rowling penned “Harry Potter” in Edinburgh’s Elephant House, Ernest Hemingway wrote “A Moveable Feast” at Paris’ Closerie des Lilas, while inspiration for international hit “Garota de Ipanema” came from a Brazilian girl passing by a Rio de Janeiro bar leading to the beach.


“Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling

Without the Elephant House pub in Edinburgh, Scotland, the “Harry Potter” saga may not have seen the light of day. Most of the early novels of the saga were penned in this Scottish pub with a red facade. Rowling sat in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh castle, drafting the characters and the whole universe that became an international blockbuster when first published in 1997.

“A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway

This autobiographical tale by Ernest Hemingway came out after the writer’s death. The novel narrates the first few years that Hemingway spent in Paris during the 1920s. It offers readers a trip through the City of Lights and its most iconic neighborhoods from rue Mouffetard, to Brasserie Lipp and the Les Deux Magots cafe in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

But it is in the Montparnasse neighborhood that Hemingway actually wrote “A Moveable Feast”, at Closerie des Lilas, a cafe-restaurant where painters like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet gathered in the mid-19th century. On a side note, Closerie des Lilas is also where F. Scott Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to read “The Great Gatsby” before publication.

“Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre

If Parisian Cafe de Flore had been shut down, would French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre have produced all of his iconic texts? In an upper room of this historic Saint-Germain-des-Prés cafe was where French philosopher outlined drafts of “Being and Nothingness”, which was published in 1943. Not far from Sartre, at a table that faced him, was where partner Simone de Beauvoir drafted what would go on to become her first hit novel, “She Came to Stay”.


“Cafe Terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh

It is a must-see for every tourist visiting Arles in the south of France. Located at the Place du Forum, just next to Nord Pinus hotel, van Gogh made this cafe immortal in 1888. At the time, it was called “The Terrace”.

The Dutch painter set his easel on the northeastern corner of the Place du Forum and depicted the warm end-of summer atmosphere of this welcoming French cafe.


“Garota de Ipanema” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes

The most well-known bossa nova tune was written in 1962 in a Rio de Janeiro cafe called Veloso. Music composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes regularly met there. They both drew inspiration from a young Brazilian woman who used to pass by the bar’s terrace.

“Garota de Ipanema” became an international hit thanks to Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s adaptation in English two years later. “The Girl from Ipanema”, sung by Astrud Gilberto, is one of the most played songs worldwide, and the legend started in a carioca bar. CC


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