To anyone concerned that Paris lacks a bit in the nightlife department, compared to the world’s other great cities, we say: it’s quality that matters, not quantity. And to take the pulse of a capital that gets going slowly but surely, here’s an itinerary through six districts where dining and drinking shade effortlessly together.
The hipster mafia has taken control of the legendary red-light district, a mecca of eroticism which is now deep in the grip of a gluten-free gentrification. On Rue Frochot, cocktail bars have replaced the hostess clubs (Glass, Dirty Dick, Lulu White), the sex shops are being overtaken by organic groceries (Causses, L’Epicerie Générale) and the great nocturnal thrills are now to be found to the east, where the chic Brasserie Barbès just opened, or to the north, where the disused SNCF railyards are now open-air playgrounds (Ground Control).
It’s on rue Victor Massé, facing the sexy Entrée des Artistes, that you’ll find the neighborhood’s first decent boutique hotel, the Grand Pigalle. Inspired by Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, the Grand Pigalle operates under a “Bed & Beverage” concept, with a bar specializing in Italian wines and retro décor by the designer Dorothée Meilichzon. Another option is Jacques Garcia’s Maison Souquet, a luxe boudoir set in a Belle Époque “pleasure house,” a few yards from Moulin Rouge and a few more from Monseigneur, a Thirties Russian cabaret turned contemporary club.
We move next to the boulevards, to the crossroads of faubourgs Poissonnière et Saint-Denis, to take the temperature of a food and cocktails scene that rarely sleeps. On the faubourgs side, we’ll dine at the Hôtel de Nell, where the third installment of Régalade by Bruno Doucet delivers haute cuisine at bistro prices. Other high-quality tables you’ll find in the very busy rue Richer (L’Office, Richer, Encore) and speakeasy-style cocktails on the way to République (Le Syndicat, Le Coq, Lavomatic). It’s the perfect itinerary for a stay at Hôtel Paradis.
South of the boulevards, on the Sentier side, the plan is more or less the same, with a bit more freestyling: dinner at Hôtel Edgar, to mix octopus and whelk with Karim Vionnet’s Beaujolais, unless a Korean jellyfish salad sprinkled with soju (Hero) or a trip to nearby Rue du Nil to visit Grégory Marchand (Frenchie, Frenchie Bar à Vins) sounds more your speed. When it comes to spirits, there’s plenty to do since the original Experimental Cocktail Club brought cocktail fever to the heart of Montorgueil (Lockwood, Jefrey’s, Mabel). And to boogie, head for EKŌ, a crazy Japanese club and sake bar, or to Silencio, where David Lynch is in a mood that’s rather more Dune than Blue Velvet.
The big news in the “Upper Marais,” of course, isn’t the opening of La Jeune Rue, that gastro-arty chimera of a neighborhood, but the newly reopened Les Bains Douches, temple of ’80s Parisian clubbing, frequented in its time by Andy Warhol, Yves Saint-Laurent, David Bowie and all the international supermodels. Closed in 2010 after an insalubrious episode, thoroughly renovated and reinvented as a grand-luxe boutique hotel, it’s got a bar, a restaurant, a nightclub, a concert hall, and 39 rooms and suites, the better to prolong the nightlife abuse for a long weekend or more.
Meanwhile, cocktail purists head for the crossing of the rue de Turenne and rue de Bretagne, where a great range of top bars and speakeasies await, frequented by the cream of the global hipsterie (Candelaria, Mary Céleste, Little Red Door). Along the way, in an interior courtyard, invisible from the street, hidden from view among market stalls, with a vertical garden in summer and an outdoor fireplace in winter: Jules & Jim. It’s a well-kept secret which doubles as a New Wave cocktail destination, with a library lounge, an avant-garde backlit bar, and a list of fruity cocktails.
Then we cross the Boulevard du Temple to Paris’s eleventh arrondissement, for the vanguard in small plates and natural wine. Dining recommendations include Clown Bar, Au Passage, Aux Deux Amis and Pierre Sang. For cocktails, it’s more like Bespoke and Pasdeloup on the lower side of the rue Oberkampf, or Joséphine and Le Perchoir on the upper side, the latter considered the first proper rooftop in all of Paris. And to deepen your appreciation of the industrial heritage of this area, what better than a sweet night at Hôtel Fabric?
Pushing on two or three stops on line 9 of the Métro (to Voltaire or Charonne), you can take up residence at Matali Crasset’s Hi Matic , a collection of hyper-functional “urban cabanas” in the heart of a popular district that we might call EsBa (East-Bastille), if we were in the mood to coin a phrase. Here you’re ideally situated to profit from the talents of chef Bertrand Grébaut (Septime, Clamato, Septime La Cave), the late-night food and cocktail pairings at Dersou, and the gentle, specialized electro sounds of BaDaBoum, to enjoy yourself in several distinct spacetimes.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés isn’t what it used to be, ever since Café de Flore priced its jambon-beurre at €9 and its Brouilly at €30 a pitcher. We console ourselves by drinking rare and fine wine at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, or at the new natural wine bar on rue Mazarine, Etna. We might also invest in one of the private salons at Lapérouse, for a small glass of champagne or a nice veal chop. Or throw off the handbrake and let loose in one of the area’s many dance halls (Chez Castel, Le Montana, Les Saint Pères).
For everything else, there’s L’Hôtel, the mythic monument to love on the rue des Beaux Arts, the final resting place (but one) of Oscar Wilde, tested and approved by the brightest artistic lights of the 20th century, from Salvador Dalí to Frank Sinatra. It’s the perfect place for a bit of romance: a private pool nestled under the arches, a courtyard with a fountain and a strawberry-strewn garden wall, and a cozy lounge, the Bar de l’Hôtel, where you’ll raise a glass with your companion and whisper risqué secrets in one another’s ears, like the recipe for the Dorian Gray — gin, tarragon, passionfruit syrup, pineapple juice and rhubarb bitters, the kind of signature cocktail that always calls for another….
Finally, where else to end up but the Champs-Élysées, where lap-dance and striptease clubs have been blooming for a long time (Pink Paradise, The Penthouse Club) and where entrepreneur Laurent de Gourcuff practically owns the night (Raspoutine, Les Planches, No Comment). Not close enough to the Seine? In that case, why not tempt fate under the ultra-chic Pont Alexandre III: Showcase et Faust are both spacious clubs, with strict dress codes and door policies. And fresher still, this little guinguette on the water: Rosa Bonheur sur Seine.
We shall end with three mythical and unavoidable hotels bars in the very chic eight arrondissement: the bars at the Bristol, the Lancaster, and the Fouquet’s, this last also called L’Escadrille. We don’t advise that you try all three on the same night, but to choose whichever one feels right on the night. In all three cases, you’ll enjoy your cocktail, you’ll feel the full weight of Paris’s history, and the bartender will become a lifelong friend, whose name you’ll repeat like a mantra in the lift taking you up to your room — or, more annoying, in the back of the taxi taking you home.