In the shadow of montmartre and just beyond le marais, Steve McKenna meets the locals in Paris’s best neighbourhoods.
The neighbourhood: Pigalle, 9th Arrondissement, Right Bank
The Local: Nicolas Piégay
“Travelling in Australia and working in coffee shops in Sydney triggered a business idea for me. After returning to France and learning more about the craft and science of coffee, I opened KB Café Shop. This was in 2010, when Pigalle was getting fashionable again. Located where the 18th arrondissement blends into the 9th, the area had been famous and quite fancy during the Belle Époque of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But by the 1970s and ’80s it was a red-light zone with a lot of crime.
Places like Hôtel Amour helped put Pigalle back on the map: a hip place to stay with a bar, restaurant and courtyard-garden that’s really popular, especially with musicians and actors. There are several production and recording studios locally – French band Phoenix recorded albums at the Motorbass studio – and there’s a whole street, Rue de Douai, lined with music shops full of guitars and other instruments. You’ll find at least four live-music venues within about 200 metres of each other, including Le Trianon and La Cigale, which still look like the classic concert halls from the late 1800s but mostly stage rock and jazz bands. South of Place Pigalle is where Parisians go out. My staff like Sister Midnight, a cocktail and craft-beer bar with ’70s-inspired décor and regular drag, burlesque and cabaret shows. And if you hit Rue Frochot, you’ll find one bar after another.
Pigalle is more relaxed by day. Come to our place for a coffee, perhaps a flat white, and sit by one of the two high bay windows. There’s good light coming in through the trees and you’re looking out onto a little square where we have outdoor tables. Or take away and walk along Rue des Martyrs, a long, historic shopping street that has a bit of everything: groceries, cheesemongers, boulangeries, chocolatiers and pâtisseries like Sébastien Gaudard. The side streets, such as Rue d’Aumale, are great for getting lost in. They called this area ‘New Athens’ because philosophers and writers would hang out here and there are classical-style buildings built for the rich, from the first half of the 19th century, pre-Haussmann.
Square Alex-Biscarre, near Place Saint-Georges, is a peaceful place to rest and catch your breath. So is the Museum of Romantic Life, a literary museum set in a house once owned by painter Ary Scheffer. In the garden, there’s a tearoom run by the renowned Rose Bakery. For dinner, my personal taste is for Cuisine. They use spices and vegetables really well – think: pollack with butternut, spinach and Madras curry or half a Normandy pigeon with Sichuan pepper. Or there’s Bouillon, which does typical good value-for-money French food, like beef bourguignon. The place is a bit of a sensation at the moment.”
The neighbourhood: Château d'Eau, 10th Arrondissement, Right Bank
The local: Elodie Berta
“I’ve lived on the Right Bank most of my life and seen Château d'Eau – an area just north of Place de la République and close to the Canal Saint-Martin – become super-cool. It’s because of places like Mamiche, an amazing bakery that always has a line outside – even Parisians from the other side of the city come here. The croissants, pains au chocolat, cinnamon rolls, petits choux and, of course, baguettes, are all very, very good. Usually boulangeries bake fresh in the morning and again around 4pm when the kids have finished school but at Mamiche they keep going all day – that’s how popular it is.
There’s so much great food and drink in the neighbourhood now. I like Les Résistants, a restaurant with rustic-chic décor, seasonal menus and an interesting wine list. Before they opened, the chefs spent more than a year travelling around France on a tasting mission and now they order ingredients directly from the source. I don’t think I’ve ever had the same dish twice – even the desserts.
You’ll also find innovative young chefs doing their thing at Marché Saint-Martin, a traditional yet trendy covered market on Rue du Château d’Eau that’s close to Copper Bay, the place for unique cocktails. My friend, who’s into pastis, loves it. You could stay at Le Grand Quartier, a boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace and studios for co-working and startups so people are coming and going all day.
Window-shopping along Rue du Château d’Eau is a must. Even the real-estate shops look good and there are independent concept stores, such as Mamamushi, which sells clothes, jewellery and accessories either created or handpicked by the young Parisian woman who runs it. The gifts and homewares at La Trésorerie are pretty but also useful, long lasting and mostly made in France. I buy something every time I’m there, whether it’s candles or cutlery, and it has a coffee shop inside. Being so close to Canal Saint-Martin is a bonus, particularly in summer, when it’s lively after work and at weekends. Bars pack both its banks and most serve drinks in plastic cups so you can walk around or sit down and dangle your feet over the water.
Just east of the canal is a secret park. It’s similar to Place des Vosges in Le Marais district but whereas the grassy square there is surrounded by posh houses, this is enclosed and part of the Hôpital Saint-Louis, which was built in the early 1600s during a plague epidemic. The architecture is beautiful; the original buildings are now used for storage and research facilities, with the hospital in a newer section, and the garden is somewhere to read a book and relax in the shade [it’s open to the public 11am to 5pm daily]. When I have friends visiting, I always bring them here and they say, ‘Wow! This is a nice surprise!’”
The neighbourhood: Butte-aux-Cailles, 13th Arrondissement, Left Bank
The local: Kasia Klon
“I’m an artist and Butte-aux-Cailles is one of the areas of Paris where I lead walking tours. It’s a charming and creative neighbourhood, the kind where you’ll see a concert pop up in a laundromat and street art decorating walls and doorways. I often think of it as an island in the city. It wasn’t officially part of Paris until the mid-19th century and doesn’t have grand Haussmannian-style buildings or even the high tower blocks you see elsewhere in the treizième [13th].
There’s a village feel, with hilly little cobbled streets and small houses with gardens; a mini-Montmartre in a way, minus the crowds. There’s even a big domed Catholic church, the Église Sainte-Anne), the local version of Sacré-Coeur. You get a good view of Sainte-Anne when you stroll along Rue Michal. Another eye-catching building is the Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles, the municipal swimming pool on Place Paul Verlaine, which has Art Nouveau architecture and heated indoor and outdoor pools. The artistic feel in Butte-aux-Cailles is encouraged by Jérôme Coumet, the local mayor, who has supported many projects, including one to paint more than 50 magnificent large-scale murals. You’ll find several artists’ ateliers and galleries, some in buildings that now sit above the Bièvre, a river that used to run through the neighbourhood but was built over some time ago.
On Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, Profils et Reliefs craft ceramics, sculptures and stained glass and run open days and workshops. It’s next door to La Folie en Tête (33 rue de la Butte aux-Cailles; +33 1 45 80 65 99), a bar with good vibes and live music. This area is quiet by day but gets livelier at night, particularly in the streets springing off Place de la Commune, a square that takes its name from the Paris Commune, a revolutionary workers’ movement that rebelled against the government – and briefly took control of the city – in 1871. Local residents were part of the struggle and on Rue des Cinq Diamants, there’s a club called Les Amies et Amis de la Commune de Paris, where people meet up and talk about it.
You’ll pass it on your way up to Chez Gladines, a restaurant serving food from the south-west of France. It’s famous for its gratin-style potatoes, which you can order with things like charcuterie and escargots. Besides Chez Gladines, Jardin Brassaï on Rue Eugène-Atget is a potential picnic spot but the best and biggest green space nearby is Parc Montsouris, located where the 13th and 14th arrondissements join, just past the wine-themed Hôtel B55. In summer especially, when they have festivals and concerts, the park is a fun place to be.”
The neighbourhood: Latin Quarter, 5th Arrondissement, Left Bank
The local: Alexis Flocon
“I run Restaurant Flocon with my brother, Josselin, a chef. We’re right in the middle of Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful streets in Paris. There’s a real buzz and mix of people: tourists, students from the Sorbonne University, old French bourgeoisie and newcomers bringing something different to the neighbourhood.
When we opened Flocon in 2019, we embraced the concept of ‘bistronomy’, keeping the legacy of French cuisine but making it more inclusive with affordable quality food and fresh, sustainable produce. We get responsibly caught fish from Brittany and vegetables from a farm in the Île-de-France, the region that surrounds Paris, and usually change half the menu every week, giving Josselin the chance to experiment. He’ll make dishes like raw scallops with coffee and hazelnut and beer-braised pork cheeks with Roscoff onions and oyster mushrooms. Customers can chill and enjoy the view in our internal courtyard, where we grow herbs.
Another restaurant I like is Caluche (12 rue de Mirbel; +33 1 45 87 89 40). It only opened less than a year ago but feels like it’s been here for decades. The way they’ve created this authentic French bistro atmosphere so quickly is really impressive and it has an incredible wine list. The sommelier has been dedicated to natural wines for 20 years or so – long before it became trendy. A top place for pastries and éclairs is Carl Marletti. He was the pâtissier-chef at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand hotel and his lemon pies are to die for. His store is at the southern end of Rue Mouffetard on Rue Censier, where the Marché Monge sets up most mornings with produce stalls.
The Sunday market, for me, is the best because from about 11am, there’s traditional French music and dancing in front of the Église Saint-Médard. It’s kind of a Parisian cliché but it’s lovely. You should definitely visit one of Paris’ oldest monuments, the Arènes de Lutèce, an amphitheatre from ancient Roman times on Rue Monge that remains quite unknown. Get a coffee from Dose, the specialty coffee shop next to us, or Graines du Jour, a vegan café further up Rue Mouffetard, and go sit on the Arènes’ steps and watch people playing pétanque.
Some of our customers stay at Hôtel Monge, which has rooms overlooking the amphitheatre. Or there’s Serotel Lutèce, a boutique hotel that has a partnership with Solstice, the Michelin-starred restaurant nearby – you can have your meal delivered to your hotel room. It’s run by top chef Éric Trochon and, in summer, it has a Secret Garden event, limited to five tables and 12 guests, so it’s a very inviting and exclusive place for fine dining.”