Just arrived in Paris and about to go for your first drink? Don’t follow the misled backpacker masses that systematically cram together inside the overcrowded hangouts of the Grands Boulevards!
Instead, here’s an insider’s subjective guide on where to grab a nice drink in Paris, from fancy cocktail bars to relaxed local watering holes – and including a few hard-to-categorise, very special venues.
1. Le Carmen
Hidden inside a prestigious historical building, this former brothel might well be one of Paris’s most stunning hangouts. High painted ceilings, opulent chairs, heavy curtains and dimly lit alcoves make for an intimate boudoir-like atmosphere: it is a very special place, perfect to impress your date.
Le Carmen’s decadent vibe and voluptuous cocktails will make you want to take your heels off and dance barefoot on the smooth carpet of the spacious main room — that, or tuck away in one of the small salons to gossip all night, dissimulating your nasty laughs behind a lace fan.
Where?/ 34 rue Duperré (9th arrondissement)
What to order?/ Tell the bartender your preferences, and he will shake you a custom-made cocktail.
Go there to…/ Sit inside the gold birdcage for a romantic tête-à-tête.
Beware of…/ Selective bouncers: avoid looking too casual, and try to have more girls than boys in your group — the place does get quite exclusive past 9 pm on weekends.
What if it’s packed?/ Head to another of South Pigalle’s numerous bars and clubs: Le Sans Souci, Le Mansart, Chez Moune…
2. Le Sans Souci
This little dive bar might not look fancy during the day but drains the staggering party crowds of South Pigalle at night, before they head off to Chez Moune or Le Carmen for a late-night dancing session. With its classic French-bistro look, neon-lit sign and chalkboard-written menus, Le Sans Souci (“No Worries”) is the perfect hangout for a laid-back round of cheap beers and a relaxed nibble before going out.
Once the Mecca of organised crime, gang wars and decadence in Paris, South Pigalle has lately become a party hotspot and magnet for cool-hunting hipsters. However the prices still mostly remain accessible and the atmosphere definitely more informal than in other parts of the city!
Where?/ 65 rue Pigalle (9th arrondissement)
What to order?/ A bottle of rosé and a cheese/charcuterie platter to share with your friends.
Go there to…/ Sit down for cheap beers and a good laugh at hipsters’ outfits, actively or passively smoke on the always-packed sidewalk; flirt with the good-looking bartenders.
Beware of…/ Limited table space Thursday to Saturday night: you’re much more likely to get a seat if you plan to order food.
What if it’s packed?/ Head to the Sans Souci’s little brother Le Mansart, run by the same team and situated 1 rue Mansart; or, if you feel like a boogie, to the club Chez Moune across the road.
3. Chez Jeannette
Multicultural rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis has recently emerged on the map of hype Paris, being dubbed “the coolest, maddest and most cosmopolitan” street of the capital by French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Among the multitude of Indian grocery shops, Turkish restaurants and Asian delicatessen, a neon sign reading “Chez Jeannette” attracts a loud mid-20s to mid-30s crowd.
Sculpted ceilings, coloured neon lights and a zinc bar create an authentic mid-20th Century atmosphere: the current owners promised the original proprietress, Jeannette, to leave the decor untouched. Always busy, Chez Jeannette is also a friendly eatery serving simple French bistro dishes.
Where?/ 47 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis (10th arrondissement)
What to order?/ Tap beer and a cheap salad.
Go there to… /Dive into the hustle and bustle of the turbulent rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis at apéro time (from 6pm); spot French celebrities in their natural habitat.
Beware of…/ Waiters there won’t wipe your table clean, and you might have to fight elbow-to-elbow with a compact crowd to get a drink.
What if it’s packed?/ Cross the road to the much less hype but highly-loveable Mauri7, preferred by those who find Chez Jeannette annoyingly hipster-ish!
This hybrid establishment is run by the team behind Merci, the vast concept-store next-door – definitely worth a visit for its incredible high ceilings, cute café and sharp clothes and decoration selection. This explains the trendy decoration: leather couches, raw materials, naked light bulbs… and a giant wall sign reading “Amore”.
All the staff here speaks with a bold Italian accent, from the waiters to the heavily tattooed head-bartender who made Grazie one of Paris’s most sought-after cocktail bars. Grazie also serves deliciously inventive pizzas – including a surprising hazelnut and chocolate-cream desert one! However my own favourite remains the classic Margherita, brought off with dexterity and quality ingredients.
Where?/ 91 boulevard Beaumarchais (3rd arrondissement)
What to order?/ The Bloody Mary Boîte, an electrifying take on the classic Bloody Mary: Hendrick’s gin instead of vodka, tomato juice and intensely aromatic herbs, served in a glass can.
Go there to…/ Enjoy nice evening cocktails on a Sunday night; rest after a shopping spree in the trendy 3rd arrondissement.
Beware of…/ Last-minute plans: it’s easier if you book early!
What if it’s packed?/ Head to L’Entrée des Artistes, Candelaria or rue Oberkampf.
5. Autour d’un Verre
No fuss in this small restaurant-bar of the 9th arrondissement: Formica tables, old wooden chairs, bistro-like mirrors and empty bottles constitute the decor. The crowd is mostly local and the atmosphere highly informal: the only star here is wine. Natural wines, to be precise: Autour d’un Verre boasts a nice list of extremely reasonably priced wines by the bottle or by the glass.
French wine is not only about Grands Crus and uptight sommeliers in black and white uniforms: there are many little-known, well-crafted and sometimes surprising wines from small producers out there for your enjoyment! Let the friendly staff guide you to find one that suits your taste. And don’t forget to order a bit of their simple, unpretentious bistro food to compliment it!
Where?/ 21 rue de Trévise (9th arrondissement)
What to order?/ Wine, of course!
Go there to…/ Be surprised by sometimes very unusual flavours – natural wine is always a bit of an adventure!; sit around one of the cute outside tables on a warm day.
Beware of…/ Licence restrictions: Autour d’un Verre technically being a restaurant, you’ll need to order a bit of food to be served alcohol.
What if it’s packed?/ This is highly unlikely, but if it is there are a few wine bars and bistros on nearby rue Cadet.
6. Le Comptoir Général
Le Comptoir Général is almost as hard to find as it is to define: you might have a hard time locating the entrance, hidden in a backyard and invisible from the street. Once inside, though, you won’t cease to be amazed: Le Comptoir Général is a joyful visual crash between an abandoned tropical hotel, an ancient-civilisation museum and an urban jungle – trees are growing out of the checked-tiles floor!
It is a bar at night, ready to water you with African beers and refreshing cocktails, and to content your stomach with cheap and delicious food from all over the globe. However this multidimensional space also features a witchcraft cabinet, an African hair salon, dinosaur bones, a second-hand bookshop… All the more reasons to come back again and again!
Where?/ 80 quai de Jemmapes (10th arrondissement)
What to order?/ A Secousse cocktail: vodka, bissap (hibiscus flowers syrup) cucumber and passionfruit; or an imported beer from Togo.
Go there to…/ Forget you’re in Paris for one evening; explore a truly unique, hybrid and militant space; play in the jungle.
Beware of…/ Weekends: the line to get a drink tends to become seriously discouraging.
What if it’s packed?/ Cross the Canal Saint-Martin and head to Chez Prune, a neighbourhood institution.
7. La Conserverie
At La Conserverie, bartenders take the art of cocktail-making very seriously: “We do not serve: blue cocktails, mojitos, layered cocktails, mojitos, vodka-apple, mojitos”, the menu warns you right away. So what do they actually serve? Expect carefully crafted mixtures mostly based on artisan-made spirits, and top of the range tapas served in industrial tins (hence the name of the bar, “The Canning Factory”).
Situated right in the middle of the historical fabric district, the Sentier, La Conserverie features dark blue walls, dim lighting and a touch of decadent-luxury-meets-industrial-decor; it has become a Parisian favourite for relaxed nights out.
Where?/ 37 bis rue du Sentier (2nd arrondissement)
What to order?/ The super-fresh Cucumber and Basil Martini.
Go there to…/ Sink into one of the comfortable mismatched couches; hang out with Parisians enjoying after-work drinks (around 7 pm weekdays).
Beware of…/ The check: the tapas are delicious, but come in small and expensive portions; and cocktails add up pretty fast.
What if it’s packed?/ Walk to the nearby rue Montorgueil (10 minutes walk) for a wide choice of glamorous bistros and cafés.
8. Le Point Ephémère
Built in 2004, Le Point Ephémère was indeed meant to be ephemeral – but ended up lasting ever since, with the help of the Paris Town Hall. Ideally situated right on the water of the Canal Saint-Martin, it is a gigantic artistic squat that hosts various exhibitions, live concerts, debates and performances every week. Its raw concrete and graffitied walls will transport you right into a Berlin atmosphere.
Le Point Ephémère’s chilled vibe also makes it the perfect location for a late afternoon drink: in summer, join the colourful arty crowd on the terrace to enjoy a fresh beer by the water.
Where?/ 200 quai de Valmy (10th arrondissement)
What to order?/ A cheap beer or a glass of red.
Go there to…/ Blend in with Paris’s creative types; grab a drink and a sandwich before dancing them off frantically at one of the venue’s numerous concerts.
Beware of…/ The particularly unfriendly staff.
What if it’s packed?/ Le Comptoir Général is a 15-minute walk away.
9. L’Entrée des Artistes
Small, welcoming and quiet, L’Entrée des Artistes is a little hidden gem. A few wooden tables, five bar stools and an ancient saloon typewriter fill up the tiny space between the stripped-off walls. But what immediately strikes the eye is the bar itself: its shelves threaten to collapse under the impressive collection of bottles of obscure liquors and little-known spirits!
The bartender puts them to good use: any cocktail that you choose from the notepad-shaped menu is guaranteed to amaze your taste buds (and, sadly, appal your wallet). They also serve lovely bites cooked by the owner’s mum, to be savoured listening to definitely ear-pleasing music.
Where?/ 8 rue de Crussol (11th arrondissement)
What to order?/ The Chicharito, a tequila and cucumber-based beauty; or try one of their barrel-aged mixes!
Go there to…/ Have your mind blown by seriously hair-rising cocktails.
Beware of…/ The lack of space: this is a very, very small bar.
What if it’s packed?/ Walk to Grazie, Candelaria or rue Oberkampf.
10. Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur is a charming modern version of a typical Parisian “guinguette”: a drinking and dancing establishment where working-class members came to relax. It is located right at the top of the beautiful green oasis that is the Buttes-Chaumont park: the terrace offers breathtaking views of the park’s green hills and leafy trees.
Order drinks and bites at the bar, then run to try and score one of the outside picnic tables: Rosa Bonheur is victim of its own success, and managing to sit down among the cheerful and chatty crowd has become an Olympic-level challenge. After the sun sets, the venue puts on its party clothes: wild dancing is to be expected!
Where?/ Avenue de la Cascade, inside the Buttes-Chaumont park (19th arrondissement); after the park closes, entry through 74 rue Botzaris.
What to order?/ A jar of sangria and a plate of pâté to share.
Go there to…/ Enjoy a nice aperitif in the last sun rays of the day.
Beware of…/ The line: arrive early! And if it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, don’t even bother.
What if it’s packed?/ Improvise a picnic on one of the beautiful hills of the Buttes-Chaumont park.
A clandestine bar that can only be found by those in the know! At first glance, it is a rather plain taqueria with white walls and a neon sign. If you look attentively though, you will see customers gradually disappearing behind the back wall… Brave enough to follow them? Walk through the door and you’ll find yourself in a minuscule, candlelit bar reminiscent of the speakeasies that were popular during the American Prohibition era – with a Mexican twist.
Behind the bar, a skilful team of bartenders is shaking the hottest cocktails in Paris, with a preference for spirits of Latin-American origin: good old tequila, but also mescal (tequila’s smoky, evil cousin), cachaça and pisco. Their fresh tacos and tostadas with salsa picante are cheap, and strongly recommended to those on the hunt for extra-tasty Mexican street food!
Where?/ 52 rue de Saintonge (3rd arrondissement)
What to order?/ The now classic Guêpe Verte (“Green Wasp”), a mix of chilli-infused tequila, cucumber, agave, coriander and lime. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for the Guapo, a hot blend of crema de mescal, chipotle and red pepper!
Go there to…/ Indulge in a few high-quality cocktails and hearty tacos before going out; recover from your hangover with a Bloody Maria at Jen’s cocktail brunch on weekends (12.30-4 pm).
Beware of…/ The lack of seats! Candelaria has become extremely popular but is still as tiny as ever. If you arrive late, chances are you’ll be standing the whole night.
What if it’s packed?/ Grazie and L’Entrée des Artistes are within walking distance. Otherwise, nearby rue Oberkampf offers numerous small quirky bars.
Image 1+2 via Katja Hentschel; Image 3 via Chez Jeannette; Image 4 via Neilufahr Alimohamadi, Cherie City; Image 5 via Finare Vinare; Image 6 via Caroline Kurze, iGNANT; Image 7 via La Conserverie; Image 8 via Melty; Image 9 via L’Entrée des Artistes; Image 10 via Rosa Bonheur.
Marie Colinet was part of the Travelettes team from 2013 to 2015. Originally from Toulouse, France, two years lived in Australia left her speaking English with an awkward Fraussie accent. In September 2015, Marie is starting the epic 6-month-or-who-knows-how-long road-trip along the Panamerican Highway that she’s been dreaming of since her teenage years — all the way from the U.S. to the very tip of South-America. You can follow her on Instagram @mariecolinet!Tweet