Finding Left Bank Paris Boutique Hotels of the Lost Generation

Paris has long been a favorite destination for expatriates, and artists are no exception. From writers, to painters, to jazz musicians, our popular culture is rich with stories and anecdotes about the lives of famous Americans living as expats in Paris. In the words of the writer Gertrude Stein, those Paris-based writers of the period between the wars, as well as their contemporaries, were a lost generation. Nonetheless, the tradition of Paris as the home of the expatriate artist, both the noteworthy, and the down and out, continued long after the period between the wars.

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was in the vanguard of American expats who returned to Paris following its liberation at the end of WWI, and that Henry Miller led a life of poverty and debauchery in Paris during the years leading up to WWII. More recently, the rock star and singer Jim Morrison lived in Paris until his death and ultimately his burial there. In fact, France has always been an especially welcoming place to creative artists, and more than a few Americans, as well as creative artists of other nationalities, have found their way to Paris. Many have also found their greatest inspiration here. Although the many have long since departed from Paris, we can still visit their haunts and houses and even stay in the same hotels where they once stayed. And staying in a hotel where we know that one of our favorite writers or musicians also stayed, is a unique way to experience Paris.

The period from 1920 up until the late 30s, between the two World Wars, was the time of the fabled Lost Generation. At that time, the American dollar went a very long way and the Left Bank (St. Germain, Montparnasse) was the preferred place for expats and artists to be. Many of them began their stay in Paris in small boutique hotels that still can be visited today.

At the end of 1921, the Nobel Prize winning American author Ernest Hemingway stayed in Room 14 at the Hotel Jacob when he first returned to Paris. He resided there until he moved into an apartment on the rue Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th arrondissement. More famously, perhaps, in 1783, this same building was the site of the English Embassy in France. The Treaty of Paris, which recognized the independence of the new United States of America, was drafted here. Today this building at 44, rue Jacob, 75006 Paris is still a hotel, and it has been renamed The Hotel d’Angleterre. It’s a three star hotel with exposed stone walls and wood beam ceilings.

In 1925, jazz musician Sidney Bechet and dancer Josephine Baker arrived in Paris to perform in La Revue Nègre and stayed their first night in the Hotel Istria Paris, 29 rue Campagne Première, 75014 Paris. Josephine Baker went on to become a huge star in Paris and Sidney Bechet spent many years living and performing in Paris.

From 1931 – 1932 the American writer Henry Miller was a frequent resident of the Hotel Central, 1 bis, rue du Maine, 75014 Paris; where he stayed in rooms 38 and 40, living with a friend, or budget permitting, a room of his own. But it was in Room 40 of this hotel where he consummated his relationship with the French writer Anais Nin, who would become his patron and lover for many years. He also began writing his most famous novel, “Tropic of Cancer”, while living in the hotel.

L’Hotel, 13 rue des Beaux Arts, 75006 Paris; is not just your average four star Paris luxury hotel, as two of its most celebrated former visitors are currently buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery! The Irish author Oscar Wilde died in the hotel in 1900 after running up a large bill, and for a short time, the American rock star Jim Morrison stayed here with his girlfriend Pamela Courson in the same second floor room where Oscar Wilde died, L’Hotel has also been named the world’s best urban hotel by Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 2008.

Jim Morrison lived in Paris for about a year before his death in 1971. Upon his arrival in Paris he first stayed in the Hotel George V, 31, avenue George V, 75008 Paris. But he also spent a short time in Room 4 at the Hotel de Medicis, 214 rue St. Jacques, 75006 Paris. The Hotel de Medicis was recently renovated and has been renamed Le Petit Paris.

These Left Bank hotels that were the favorites of the Lost Generation, and those that followed them, are just a small sampling of the establishments that have hosted visitors and new arrivals in Paris over the years. Paris is no longer cheap enough to attract starving artists in large numbers and most visiting celebrities are staying in exclusive luxury hotels, as Jim Morrison did when he stayed in the Hotel George V upon his arrival in Paris. Today, the Plaza Athenée Hotel at 25, avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris; is the premiere artsy hotel of Paris. It was featured in the last episode of the TV series, Sex in the City, “An American in Paris” as the hotel where Carey Bradshaw stayed in Paris. The hotel has also hosted such diverse American noteworthies as Josephine Baker, Gary Cooper, Jackie Onassis Kennedy and JFK Jr.

Even if you choose not to stay in one of these Left Bank hotels that are full of history, you can just as easily get a little bit closer to the Paris of the Lost Generation by staying in a short term vacation rental and experiencing Paris as a local. And when you’re there, if you take the time to explore the side streets and alleyways of Paris and wander the Left Bank late at night, when all is quiet you just might hear the echoes of footsteps or the whispering of its ghosts.