I like to call it the “Flanerie Challenge.” Can I pass the time from breakfast to the post-dinner drink in a single café, watching the patrons who come in waves?
I’m not the only one at this Rue Dauphine café in Paris to spend hours at my table: nursing every sugary drop of my €4.40 café au lait. The coffee, after all, is irrelevant. For those in need of a caffeine boost – and maybe a quick chat with the proprietor – a simple espresso can be had at the counter for one euro or less.
The terrasse price of the coffee – almost all cafés in Paris vary their prices depending on whether you’re standing, sitting indoors, or sitting outside, overlooking the boulevard – may feel closer to the cost of real estate than the price of a beverage, but that’s because it is. A single coffee buys you the right to sit at a table, undisturbed, for as long as you like, watching the world go by.
You’d be in good company. Sartre famously spent all day, every day at Café Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, keeping to a strict schedule (writing 9 am to noon, lunch until 2 pm, socializing until 4 pm, writing until 8 pm, dinner until 10 pm), rarely disturbed by waiters (or even the wartime air-raid signals. “Even when the air-raid alarm sounded,” he wrote, “we would merely pretend to leave and then climb up to the first floor and go on working.”).