Image by Amelie Laurin
New York City’s hackneyed boast of being the city that never sleeps is a trope so outdated by now as to be comical. Seriously, we’ve had more late nights in Nashville lately.
But much even to our own surprise, we recently discovered that Paris comes surprisingly close to the top of our late night list; and while our friends in Berlin and Barcelona may challenge that, a recent whirlwind of a trip through the City of Light had us very willingly staying up way past our typical NYC bedtime.
After a relatively quick and uncomplicated voyage – thanks to a lovely Air France redeye, and some well-chosen medicinals – we came to rest on the far east side of town, a place where, if a view of the Eiffel Tower or Montmartre is absolutely necessary, requires quite a lot of squinting and neck craning. But with the perpetually hip Mama Shelter hotel as our home base, we spent the next several days discovering a multitude of new streets to stumble down, whilst steering exceedingly clear of those pesky tourist throngs.
Image by Amelie Laurin
The snail-shell-like map of Paris’ arrondissements locates the 20th, 12th and 13th on the eastern edge of the city. We made Pere Lachaise Cemetery – final resting place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison – our central landmark, and ventured forth to traverse the neighborhoods of Menilmontant, Bastille, Belleville and Bercy, areas more akin to where we typically roam at home in Greenpoint and Bushwick. Potentially intimidating waiters at white-cloth-tabled bistros were replaced by hip millennials offering cheap wine and organic veggies. And late nights on a floating dance club that stayed open for 50 hours straight were fueled by numerous imbibables.
Here’s how it all played out.
Air France offers the best in US/FR flights, for our money. Our overnight from JFK kicked off with complimentary champers in the airport lounge – what better start could one ask for?
The aforementioned Mama Shelter, the Philippe Starck designed boutique hotel that we made home, featured a cheery staff and a perpetually energized restaurant/bar off the lobby…that transformed into a lively scene come sundown each evening.
First stop was the charming open-air market Marche Aligre in the Bastille, where we sampled delicacies from local restaurants Miss Lunch, Maguey, Marcelle and others as part of a city wide restaurant tour.
For us, Paris is even more of a walking city than New York – to be sure, we’re always excited to plant our feet on those ancient cobblestones. We found a wonderful street art walking tour that had us cruising the rues of the 13th, and turned us on to what’s happening beyond the pricey galleries of Saint Germain.
We know there’s no end of hallowed art museums in Paris; but we were intrigued to come across the Art Ludique, which featured an amazing DC Comics exhibit – including authentic Batman memorabilia – and got us in the mood for Paris Comic Con In October. It’s located in the modern Cite de la Mode at du Design, the roof of which hosts not one but three bars, and jaw-dropping views of the Seine.
As we were on the river, we stayed for dinner at one of many water-adjacent establishments… specifically Petit Bain, which was great for laid-back fish and chips and cocktails – sustenance we’d need for the planned late night ahead.
Image by Amelie Laurin
After being reminded that it was considered one of the greatest nightclubs in the world, we felt just a tad intimidated braving the line at Rex Club. We needn’t have, the place was the epitome of dance club chapel, with no attitude, awesome sound, and nonstop cocktails; a very late night return to Mama Shelter resulted in us missing breakfast, and lunch, the following day.
We did manage to grab an afternoon snack of pumpernickel toast with avocado, radish, red onions and deviled eggs at the hip Grand Central Restaurant and to check out the cool open space it is adjacent to, CENTQUATRE PARIS. The latter is used by budding dancers and performance artists to test their routines; it’s like the Fame school with baguettes.
We always love the Paris Metro for shuttling around between musees and bistrotheques; but when we were introduced to the option of a motorcycle sidecar tour, how could we say no? Their charming, and Gallic-sort-of-macho drivers had us yelling “tally ho Jeeves”…but in French, of course. The cycles dropped us off at one of the city sponsored creative hubs, Les Ateliers de Paris, where budding design houses are given yearly studio space in which to develop their aesthetic. We discovered stylish sneaker manufacturer Garconne & Cherubin and leatherwear designer AMPLR, whose chic backpacks would soon be slung over our shoulders.
Then it was off to Rosa sur Seine, where we met up with the director of the Paris nightlife council Frederic Hocquard. His business card reads Charge de la Nuit, and his main mission is to regulate the city’s nocturnal activities, including its 150 discos and clubs, thirteen thousand bars and venues, and six-hundred thousand nighttime workers. Sounds like fun, but we guessed he was probably pretty tired a lot of the time.
As were we on the edge – okay in the middle – of the decidedly more bourgeoisie 7th, we made a quick side trip through Invalides to visit with an artist friend at the gloriously Parisian classic bistro Le Tourville, before heading back to the 12th for a lovely dinner of salade de quinoa, et légumes du soleil, crevettes à l’ail (grilled shrimp over quinoa) at the exceedingly hip La Bellevilloise, a multi-room cultural center that includes a live music venue, restaurant, nightclub and outdoor surf bar. Director/founder Renaud Barillet has devoted years to developing the venue, and is also involved with numerous other public cultural spaces.
Our subsequent late night at Concrete could have been a lot more decadent, as the venerated riverfront club is open continuously from 8pm on Friday until Monday morning – and hosts the crème de la crème of international dance music DJs…techno/house being the vibe the night we were there. We didn’t encounter anyone planning to stay for the entire weekend, but we were pretty sure they were there.
Our final morning in Paris had us visiting the charming suburban commune of Saint Ouen, just north of the city’s boundary; it’s home to Paris’ enormous flea market, and the highest concentration of antique dealers in the world. We made a stop at the singularly cool MOB Hotel for a lunch of leek and avocado salad and squash soup, then spent time lounging around the hotel’s stylish and comfy lobby, before heading back to the Air France terminal at Charles de Gaulle…and what we hoped would be another couple of rounds of pre-flight bubbly.