10 Places To Visit If You Love Ernest Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises'
Lesley M.M. Blume is the author of Everybody Behaves Badly , available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 debut novel, The Sun Also Rises , depicted 1920’s expatriate Paris at its most colorful — and its most debauched. This was, after all, the book that branded the Lost Generation, and its members arguably partied harder than anyone since the bacchanals of ancient Rome. Many expats “went completely berserk the minute they hit Montparnasse,” recalled a bartender from the Dingo, a popular dive bar at the time.
The scene crescendoed in the mid-1920s and ended abruptly with the 1929 stock market crash. Yet The Sun Also Rises had captured the moment for posterity — so much so that F. Scott Fitzgerald had warned Hemingway that it was starting to read like a guidebook to Montparnasse. (Hemingway made some necessary adjustments after that.)
Despite the passage of nearly a century, there are still a surprising number of surviving places from the Sun world that aficionados can visit today, in Paris and beyond — and each evokes the novel and the period in a poignant way.
Here is a list of my ten favorite The Sun Also Rises pilgrimage sites:
1. Café Le Select
Founded in 1920, the Select was one of the primary Paris settings in The Sun Also Rises; the characters flit in and out constantly. Hemingway himself was a regular; one expat remembered him turning up there in the mornings and pushing through the terrace tables and chairs “like a prowling animal.” In The Sun Also Rises, protagonist Jake Barnes goes there with Lady Brett Ashley, whose beauty immediately creates a stir; she is immediately besieged by a rhapsodic little painter and a champagne-pouring count. In another scene, Jake comes across a character called Harvey Stone, who has clearly been on a bender and shows no signs of slowing down; the men drink together and talk about the literary scene on the café terrace.
The Select still stands in its original spot on Boulevard du Montparnasse, and over the years its management has worked hard to retain the original décor and atmosphere of the place. Go for wine in the early evenings or early morning cafes creme when the place first opens up.
2. Le Dôme Café
The Dôme happened to be the nerve center of the Left Bank expat colony (the Paris Ritz was the headquarters for the richer Right Bank habitués); anyone who wanted to broadcast a rumor, showcase a new mistress, or brag about selling a new novel did so at the Dôme.
Somewhat surprisingly, the café does not play much of a role as a setting in the The Sun Also Rises, considering its importance in expat life. However, in an omitted chapter, Jake passes some time there with friends. The Dôme’s neighbor and rival, the Rotonde (105 Boulevard du Montparnasse) – which Hemingway reviled and sent up in an early newspaper profile – gets mentioned in Sun with derision, both in drafts and the published version. Then again, it was popular back then for American and British expats to hate the Rotonde; the owner was a “bastard” in their opinion.
Both the Dôme and the Rotonde are still open today, standing across the street from each other in perpetual rivalry.
3. La Closerie des Lilas
While the Dome and Rotonde were expat circuses, the Closerie “maintained all the traditions of the old Latin Quarter,” recalled one expat. This was Hemingway’s home café, chosen precisely because it has so little spillover from the Dome et al; but eventually even the Closerie began to chase the American dollar. Hemingway was appalled when management made its waiters shave off their drooping mustaches in a dubious bid to create a more modern atmosphere.
In an omitted chapter of The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes sits at the Closerie drinking whiskeys with writer John Dos Passos (who appeared under his own name, like many of the book’s characters in the novel’s early drafts), when a character named “Braddocks” inflicts himself on the pair. Braddocks was a thinly-veiled portrait of writer Ford Madox Ford, whom Hemingway could not abide. (His breath was “fouler... than the spout of any whale,” he later wrote.) Braddocks proceeds to snub a man who does not realize that he has been snubbed, and takes infantile delight in the whole matter, while Jake is disgusted. The scene was cut but repurposed for A Moveable Feast, in which Ford appears under his own name this time.
The Closerie is still very much a bustling café, and homages to Hemingway abound. A small plaque marks his place at the bar; his face stares up from the bar’s menus. You can still sit on the terrace where Hemingway wrote in the mornings, armed with pencils, a pencil sharpener and a passel of French school notebooks. “The marble-topped tables, the smell of café cremes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed,” he contended in Moveable.
4. Building of Charles Scribner’s Sons
Fifth Avenue and 48th Street, New York City
In February 1926, Hemingway came from Europe to New York City to break ties with his first American publisher, Boni & Liveright, and join the prestige stable at Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publisher of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, and Theodore Roosevelt. When Hemingway visited the regal Scribner’s building to meet with editor Maxwell Perkins, the publishing house — like the rest of New York — was consumed with all things Fitzgerald, who was then Scribner’s star author. The windows of the ground floor Scribner’s store were filled with Fitzgerald books and pictures of scenes from the new Broadway production of The Great Gatsby.
Sadly, the historic building — which oversaw the birth of many classics of American literature — now houses a Sephora, although some history-minded developer kindly kept the magnificent Scribner’s signage on the front and side of the building. It still makes for an evocative pilgrimage.
5. Restaurante Botín
According the Guinness Book of World Records, Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world, dating back to 1725. Over the decades, patrons have come for the roast suckling pig and roasted lamb; one dines under wood-beamed dining and tile-floored rooms; the cast-iron ovens used as reportedly centuries old.
Botín makes an appearance at the end of The Sun Also Rises: Lady Brett has absconded to Madrid with handsome young bullfighter Pedro Romero. Their affair comes to naught; Jake Barnes goes to Madrid to retrieve Brett. The two put on poker faces and head to the restaurant.
“It is one of the best restaurants in the world,” says Jake. “We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.”
God knows he deserved it.
Navarre, Basque country, northern Spain
In 1924 and 1925, Hemingway, with two respective entourages, went to the village of Burguete in Basque country to fish for trout before descending upon Pamplona for the annual San Fermin bullfighting festival. One of his cohorts describes the town then: “It was tiny and quiet, with one bare peasant inn, and but a few cottages. Herds of sheep and goats flocked in the surrounding hills, and muleteers drove their donkeys down the road, bearing cordwood or wine bag. Life in these places was going on much as it had hundreds of years ago. The local dress was skirted trousers and leggings of bright colours. The mountaineers had that air of nobility which simple and primitive people possess.”
Burguete’s remote, bucolic beauty entranced Hemingway, and he immortalized the area in The Sun Also Rises. Jake Barnes and character Bill Gorton set up shop there in a country bed and breakfast, and fish on the Irati River: the town and surrounding countryside serve as wholesome counterpoints to the decadence of life back in expat Paris.
Die-hard Hemingway fans can still visit this remote town, still surrounded by meadows and forests; you can even stay at the same hotel where Hemingway once lodged: the Hostal Burguete.
7. Café Iruña
This hugely popular café on Pamplona’s main square basically serves as a headquarters for the Jake Barnes entourage during its time at the San Fermin Festival. It was first mentioned in the draft material: Jake and Bill meet their friends at the Iruña, which has become overrun with Americans and a fancy crowd from Biarritz, much to Jake’s annoyance. (In real life, Hemingway had been equally irritated by the American influx to the city.) “In front of the café a Rolls Royce motor car was surrounded by a crowd,” he wrote. It was chauffeured and its cargo included the American ambassador to Spain. One of the women who flanked him “met the eyes of every man in the café who looked at her.” Jake and his crowd drink and watch the scene.
In the published version, everyone in the crew consistently loses each other and finds each other again at the café; it is their go-to home base. Excitement builds there each day before the bullfights: “There was a close, crowded hum that came every day before the bull-fight. The café did not make this same noise at any other time, no matter how crowded it was,” says Jake.
The Iruña — still standing, still vibrant — has honored its Hemingway affiliation by standing a bronze statue of him at the end of its bar, so it too can watch the crowds come and go.
8. The Dingo (now L’Auberge de Venise)
10 Rue Delambre, Paris
This bar used to be a satisfying dive of a place — and was ground zero for some seriously outlandish expat shenanigans. People behaved very badly at the Dingo: some of them drank themselves into oblivion at its small bar and could sometimes afterwards be found passed out in the trees or clinging to the lamppost outside. Hemingway references the Dingo several times in The Sun Also Rises; it is also the site of the scene in which Lady Brett informs Jake that she has been having an affair with Jewish heir Robert Cohn. In real life, the prototype for Lady Brett — a Brit named Lady Duff Twysden — also frequented the Dingo, and even wrote to Hemingway on Dingo stationery. When she and her boyfriend Pat Guthrie were low on funds, which was often, the Dingo’s popular bartender Jimmie Charters would come to the rescue, providing food, funds, and booze.
The Dingo has long been extinct, although the restaurant that currently operates in its former location (a modest, jovial Italian place called L’Auberge de Venise) retains its original bar. Hemingway alleged in A Moveable Feast that he first met F. Scott Fitzgerald at this bar — a meeting in which Fitzgerald supposedly drank himself silly and promptly passed out.
9. Hotel Crillon
10, Place de la Concorde, Paris
A grand Paris hotel, housed in a building erected in 1758, the Crillon was making history long before the Lost Generation flocked there. In 1778, the building was used as the venue for the official signing of the first treaties between the spanking new United States of America and France. Many decades later, on Hemingway’s pages, Jake Barnes sets up shop there one afternoon and waits for the arrival of Lady Brett Ashley, who, of course, stands him up. Barnes lingers dutifully anyway, drinking a Jack Rose with George the barman and writing letters.
“They were not very good letters but I hoped their being on Crillon stationery would help them,” he wrote.
The Crillon is currently undergoing a renovation, but will be back in action soon.
10. Princeton University Library
Princeton, New Jersey
Special Collections at the PUL not only houses the papers of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach, and Charles Scribner’s Sons, it also houses several desks that once belonged to the giants of Scribner’s, including a desk of Maxwell Perkins and one of Charles Scribner’s. Some of the most important manuscripts in 20th century literature likely crossed these desks, by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and many others. While both perhaps belong in the Smithsonian, the desk of Perkins lives in the Princeton University Library, and Scribner’s desk resides at Ivy, a private Princeton eating club on Prospect Avenue.
Both desks are available for use by students.
Images: Claiborne Swanson Frank; DIMSFIKAS/Wikimedia Commons; Phillip Capper/Wikimedia Commons; Amikosik/Wikimedia Commons; Cessator/Wikimedia Commons; Elise.Rolle/Wikimedia Commons; Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash