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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beauford's Paris Café Life

From the first days that Beauford arrived in Paris, he enjoyed café life.  This posting presents contemporary photos of some of his favorite cafés in Montparnasse and near the Saint Germain district on the Left Bank.

Le Select

 Le Select
99, boulevard du Montparnasse
75006 Paris
© Discover Paris!

Personal communications from Burt Reinfrank and long time African-American expatriate Tannie Stovall indicate that Beauford was often seen at the Select.  He was frequently surrounded by "friends," some of whom were inclined to take advantage of his generous nature and allowed him to pay for food and drink for everyone though he could ill afford it. In Amazing Grace, biographer David Leeming recounts that in Beauford's later years, he would sometimes order large meals here or at Le Dôme (see below) and have no funds to pay the bill.  The café owners knew Beauford so well that they would ignore the unpaid bill.  At times, a friend of Beauford would cover the charges.

The Select was also a favorite of a contemporary African-American artist and friend of Beauford, Ed Clark.

Le Dôme

 Le Dôme
108, boulevard du Montparnasse
75014 Paris
© Discover Paris!

David Leeming recounts that on Beauford's first night in Paris, he felt restless and decided to leave his hotel at around 11PM to buy a sandwich.  He entered Le Dôme, the first place that he encountered, and was pleasantly surprised to find a painter friend from New York inside.  Earl Kirkham was in the company of many other Americans, and Beauford joined them for an evening of merriment.  Beauford would return to his hotel at three or four the following morning.

Ed Clark recounted an amusing anecdote about Beauford and the Dôme to me several years ago.  He and Beauford once sold paintings to a white American here.  After having completed the transaction, he and Beauford sat down to share a few drinks with the buyer.  Because the man had been purchasing art all day, he did not have the money to pay his bar tab at the end of the day.  Thus he asked Beauford if he would kindly take his paintings back in exchange for the money, which Beauford did.

Beauford's friend Richard Gibson indicates that Beauford was often at Le Dôme.

La Coupole

La Coupole
102, boulevard du Montparnasse
75014 Paris
 © Discover Paris!

Gibson also indicates that Beauford and his friends sometimes frequented La Coupole.  Though this was the most expensive of the Carrefour Vavin cafés at the time (Le Dôme is by far the most expensive at present), Beauford and friends such as Ed Clark were occasionally able to afford to eat on the left side of the restaurant, which was cheaper than the right side where tables were set with cloth napkins.  Michel Fabre and John A. Williams' A Street Guide to African Americans in Paris mentions a happy evening that Beauford spent here in the company of fellow painter Herb Gentry and writer Lindsay Barrett.

Au Petit Suisse and Le Tournon

Au Petit Suisse
16, rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
© Discover Paris!

Richard Gibson also recounts that Beauford did not like the Café Tournon, the famous hangout for African-American expats in the post-World War II era.   He says that Beauford found it "too macho and not very friendly" the few times that he managed to get Beauford to go there, and that Beauford preferred Au Petit Suisse, which is located across the street from the Odéon Theater and the Luxembourg Garden.  The two cafés are still in existence, and are less than a five minute walk apart.


Café Tournon
18, rue de Tournon
75006 Paris
© Discover Paris!

In Amazing Grace, David Leeming states that Beauford would sometimes go to the Tournon in the company of James Baldwin and his entourage, and would even go there alone on occasion to engage in philosophical discussions. Richard Wright was a domineering force during these discussions (and not particularly welcoming to gay men), and Leeming indicates sthat Beauford and Wright were never close.

The Tournon lists Beauford, Ellington, Baldwin, Wright, and other African Americans on the history page of its Web site (in French).  There is a vintage photograph of Beauford and Duke Ellington seated at a table in the café that the servers may be willing to show you if you inquire at the bar!



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