Few cities do quirky and unusual bars and cafés like Paris does. These charming places are known to the locals, for the most part, something which adds considerably to their allure. Both their décor and atmosphere celebrate the true eccentric charm that lies beneath Paris’ polished surface.
Imagine the perfect drinks terrace. Does it consist of a beautiful, tree-lined interior courtyard, a swinging love seat and more eye candy than you can handle?
If so, head immediately to Andy Wahloo, one of the city’s sexiest little secrets. After locating this quiet, cobblestoned road on the edge of Le Marais, you’ll be wondering whether you’ve got the right address. But once through the charming archway to the leafy courtyard, you’ll be pleased you managed to locate this little piece of Parisian heaven.
The interior will not disappoint. With a spectacular décor inspired by 1970s Morocco, oriental touches and kitsch objects happily coexist, as do poseur party people from all over the world.
If you’re on a budget, head there early between 6pm and 8pm and enjoy the cocktail du jour for only €5. Or stick with wine: a couple of €5 glasses will keep you happy while the nightly DJ spins a mix of electro, house, disco and funk. Just don’t expect to sip wine outside after midnight; like all nightspots set in charming old Parisian buildings, one must respect the neighbours and take the party inside.
Reviewed by: Mel Dark/Eddie Lennon
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Le Café Noir
This quirky, quintessentially Parisian bar has a strong international dimension, yet manages to be neither cheesy nor suffocatingly touristy. Located in central Paris, Le Café Noir is a popular after-work hangout that hums with vitality and madcap singularity. It attracts a young, animated crowd, varying from fresh-faced, studious types to elegant young ladies employed by Parisian perfume houses.
Pay a visit on weekends, and you’re guaranteed an electric atmosphere. Exceptionally good DJs hit the decks, generating uptown funk grooves and obscure electronic music. Offbeat custom-made décor adorns the inside, and the ultra-violet backdrop adds to the funky feel of the place.
On balmy summer nights, soak up the buzzing atmosphere on the tiny outdoor terrace. Here, tables are gold-dust and the corner of the pedestrianised street is jam-packed with a cosmopolitan crowd.
Reviewed by: Eddie Lennon/Naomi Firsht
This 100% vegetarian café is a cute and cosy place for a healthy lunch or light brunch. Run by three Australian women, Tuck Shop has quickly become a neighborhood favourite for locals and expats alike. Freshly baked cakes, soups, salads and sandwiches are served daily, and always include a couple of totally vegan choices such as chickpea, zucchini and tomato salad and roast tomato soup.
The unobtrusive white façade gives way to a homely interior furnished with a medley of formica chairs, wooden benches and scrubbed tables. Quirky details including the fishbowl gardens atop each table, and the patterned tiled floor, bring an arty feel. The wide counter displays the various goodies on offer, from mozzarella toast to giant bowls of quinoa salads and banana bread.
Behind the counter a gleaming, steaming coffee machine churns out cappuccinos, lattés and espressos, with soy milk available for vegans. Prices are very reasonable, considering how close it is to Canal Saint-Martin. On weekends, for example, Tuck Shop offers a healthy, hearty and very reasonably priced brunch, from €6.50 to €12.
A word of warning: there aren’t any toilets, so go easy on the chai lattés!
Reviewed by: Naomi Firsht/Eddie Lennon
Tucked away at the end of Passage Bourg-l’Abbé is a little bar with lots of character. The décor is homely and very Parisian, with banquette seats, dark wooden tables and flyers and posters dotted throughout. Les Cariatides has the friendly feel of a local bar with a crowd of devoted regulars always in attendance.
However, thanks to its prominent live music schedule, there’s also a constant flow of jazz lovers, folk fans and young rockers passing through. Concerts, theatre performances and even magic shows are held at least three or four times a week in the cavern beneath the bar. A tiny stage and small space make for an intimate, if sweaty, experience. It’s a great place for listening to new music, not least because almost all the concerts offer free entry. Count on a lively crowd, and be ready to bop along.
Upstairs, the bar is narrow, with a line of four-top tables along one wall and tiny ones along the other. Happy hour (“heure du crime”) runs from 6pm to 9pm, when pints are half price, costing just €4 (very cheap indeed for central Paris) and cocktails €6 instead of the usual €9.
Reviewed by: Naomi Firsht/Eddie Lennon
Looking for a cheap night’s drinking, and not too fussy about the décor? Then check out this small but animated dive bar in Bastille. What it lacks in design it certainly makes up for in atmosphere. The name translates as ‘Destination: Moon’, after one of The Adventures of Tintin books. It is appropriately titled, given the kind of drunken, good-humoured eccentrics it attracts. True to the varied flavours of the neighborhood, the crowd is a raucous mix of the trendy, hedonistic and the wonderfully weird.
There are few tourists in evidence. Regulars include a French Denzel Washington lookalike (complete with Cuban cloth cap), one or two dodgy-looking types in expensive, impeccably tailored suits, and any number of bleary-eyed barflies. The barmen are a cheery, wise-cracking bunch. They also provide the tunes: a wide-ranging, well-chosen jumble of pop, rock and reggae.
During the generously prolonged happy hour (6pm till 1am), pints of the Belgian beer Primus are just €3, cocktails €6.50, and apéritifs and glasses of wine €3.50.
If you fancy a chat with some of the locals, nab a high stool at the bar; should mixing with giddy young things be more your style, grab a seat at the back.
Reviewed by: Eddie Lennon/Naomi Firsht
Situated at the top of a hill, surrounded by trees in the romantic Buttes-Chaumont park, it’s hard to beat Rosa Bonheur for location. This colourful pavilion is especially cherished during the warmer months when Parisians put city life on pause and come here to soak up the nature and make the most of the terrace.
If you choose to stay outside, just grab a bench, order some snacks (cheeses, terrines and small meat dishes) and enjoy the lazy beer garden atmosphere. If you prefer to sit inside, you can still make the most of the location as the bar boasts one of the best panoramic views in town.
On weekends, you should arrive no later than 6pm when fences go up, a queue to enter quickly forms, and the security guards let people in at an annoyingly slow pace. Once inside, though, the atmosphere is relaxed, and a low-key crowd gets ready to dance and drink copious amounts of sangria.
Even after the park has closed, you can get in through the entrance opposite 74 rue Botzaris (next to Botzaris Métro), and the security will channel you through. This secret passage brings in a full house in winter months, and the small dance floor is crammed with people.
Reviewed by: Jeroen Knippenberg/Mel Dark/Naomi Firsht/Eddie Lennon
Le Thé des Écrivains
This contemporary version of the Parisian literary salon is quite unusual in Paris―you can muse in the bookstore while taking a tea-break or lunch, with delicious home-made delicacies and light meals on offer.
The décor of the salon combines an old factory-style atmosphere with vintage furniture, while the walls are filled, from floor to ceiling, with books, Bollywood movie posters and cinematic nostalgia.
The place has become a favourite meeting place for the many intellectuals and artists of the neighborhood.
The books on sale are interesting. There’s a good selection of literature from small, independent publishing houses, as well as works about tea and gastronomy, art and culture. The internationally successful stationery line is hard to resist. The papers are hand-made in Asia, and the colours and design are extremely stylish.
The food (Asian fusion) is light and tasty, and very original. It is served on trays and accompanied by fun paper mats with a literary quiz in French. The Salon regularly hosts artists’ and writers’ talks, book events and tea-tasting sessions.
Reviewed by: Valérie Douniaux/Eddie Lennon
The setting of Dirty Dick is a dream to anyone fond of the Tiki Hawaiian ambiance, or simply seeking a touch of the exotic or delightfully unorthodox. Down to the tiniest detail, the team in charge has made the place a little haven of warm and smooth vibes, virtually cut off from the buzz of the neighborhood. Even the WC is equipped with its own speaker, adding a sonic backdrop of soothing birds and insects to your bathroom break.
A key part of the bar’s allure is the playful juxtaposition of seemingly random décor: vegetation growing within the walls; a large wall painting of a topless blonde with sun-kissed skin; wicker chairs everywhere; and large Tikis watching from every corner of the room.
The bar is laden with temptations. Cocktails, with some dramatic names and descriptions, are priced from €6 to €14. They range from a lush rum-coconut ice-blended little short, to a more elaborate selection (€10 and up) of fruit-garnished cocktails made with Caribbean rums, and served in carved Tiki glasses.
Dirty Dick’s smokers’ lounge, spacious enough to welcome about 15 people, is a lovely, chilled-out space, decorated with seats, stools, a sofa, a Tiger’s head and other wall trophies.
Reviewed by: Tracy Mamoun/Eddie Lennon
La Folie en Tête
If you can’t get enough of chilled-out alternative bars off the beaten track, then this place is for you. La Folie en Tête (‘madness in the head’) is located in the Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood—a quiet, village-like district spread out on a hill in southwest Paris, near Place d’Italie and Chinatown.
La Folie en Tête has its own unique style: the walls are adorned with dozens of wooden musical instruments, and trumpets, traffic lights and other quirky bric-à-brac hang from the ceiling.
It’s a lively haunt, even during weekdays. A broad mix of students and people in their 30s and 40s make for a casual, relaxed atmosphere. The music is a laidback selection of reggae, jazz, rock and world music.
The prices are pleasant too, with demis (half pints) starting at €3, and pints at €5. There are more than a dozen punches and cocktails available, and at prices which won’t break the bank. (€6 to €7.50). You can go even cheaper during happy hour (5pm to 8pm daily) with half-price pints, cocktails for €5, and aperitifs €2.50.
Reviewed by: Jeroen Knippenberg/Eddie Lennon/Naomi Firsht
Le P’tit Bar
Its floors are sticky, just like the counter; the décor is bog standard and downmarket; and precious little effort appears to be put into glassware hygiene. Yet the customers just keep coming in. And that’s not only the local Bastille barflies and picaresque characters propping up the counter since the mid-1960s.
So what’s the secret? For a start, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything more quintessentially Parisian, or more against the grain of popular preconceptions about the city. Madame Paulo, the owner and barkeep, is something of a local legend. She is at least in her eighties, has been proudly holding the fort since 1965, and does not take kindly to anyone treating her tiny, beloved dump like a tourist zoo.
Dinks are as cheap as you’ll find anywhere in Paris. A glass of wine: €1.80; bottled beer: €3.50; and a few liquors for under €2.
Minuscule, barely noticeable, and usually dark, Le P’tit is a unique survivor of grimy, bygone days. So, for as long as the place lasts―i.e. as long as its boss is still fit and thriving―it’s definitely one to check out for a slice of what Paris once was.
Reviewed by: Tracy Mamoun/Eddie Lennon
This article is an extract from The Parisians’ Guide to Cafés, Bars and Restaurants, the unique new guide to eating and drinking in the French capital, written by residents of the city and frequent visitors.