La Rue Montorgueil

November 20, 2011

La rue Montorgueil is a street, a neighborhood, and a village all packed into one short, uber-charming stretch of cobblestone. Straddling the border between the 1st and 2nd arrondissements of Paris and tucked just behind the beautiful and imposing Eglise Saint-Eustache, rue Montorgueil is perhaps my favorite street in Paris.

Because of its abundance of small, specialized shops, rue Montorgueil brings to mind the old nursery rhyme with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. In this case, forget the candlestick maker and throw in a few cheese stores, wine merchants, chocolate shops, and fresh fish, fruit, and vegetable markets, and you can start to picture the atmosphere on rue Montorgeuil.

Whatever your food or drink needs, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for here. This pedestrian paradise is lined on both sides not only with shops to help you cook from home, but also with a multitude of cafés, brasseries, and restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk (including heated terraces in winter).

The constantly bustling rue Montorgueil is full of character, and is about as close as one can get to the “Old Paris,” when locals dined in neighborhood brasseries and fresh products were bought from the nearest vendor, not from the frozen section of a supermarket.

Rue Montorgueil is not entirely unknown to tourists, but you won’t hear much English spoken there as you walk down the street. Most of the patrons perched at sidewalk cafes with a demi or a glass of wine are locals. They may be Parisian, but they get as much enjoyment as you or I from immersing themselves in a warm and lively atmosphere where you can have a drink and simultaneously watch the world go by just a few feet away.

The fishmonger on the street calling out his best deals of the day and showing off his freshest catches, the fromager recommending a certain kind of cheese to a curious client, or the butcher explaining to a customer exactly how to cook a coq au vin; these are all images that seem suited for a Toulouse-Lautrec painting or perhaps the latest Woody Allen film. Rest assured, though, that on rue Montorgueil, you can become part of this ever-so-charming world merely by strolling down the street.

When friends visit from out of town, I take them to rue Montorgueil and we amble aimlessly from shop to shop, stand to stand, market to market. We soak up the atmosphere and slowly but surely buy each course of a filling French meal, right down to the wine, cheese, and chocolate. There is something satisfying about making each purchase in a specialized shop, and even more satisfying about doing all of it in a span of about 100 yards.

In addition, you’ll likely notice that in a nod to modernity, old-school French establishments aren’t the only ones to have set up shop here. Several diverse establishments such as sushi or Chinese restaurants easily co-exist alongside their French counterparts and add some variety to rue Montorgueil. Even Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed the occasional California roll from time to time.

So next time you are in the center of Paris, day or night (or Sunday morning, a rarity in France), carve out an hour to wander through this quartier and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells that it has to offer.




For eating, drinking, or cooking needs, try the following:

Café du Centre

At the geographical heart of Montorgueil, you can relax and have a drink (or choose food from a classic brasserie menu) as you look out across the cobbestones to the asthaetically pleasing Palais du Fruit, where thousands of fruits are stacked neatly in every color of the rainbow. This is perhaps the best spot for partaking in the timeless art of people-watching.

57 Rue Montorgueil

01.42 .33.20.40



Caldo Freddo

Stop at this Italian-owned pizza joint if you’re looking for a quick slice or a mouth-watering panini. It may not be French, but it’s good quality, friendly service, and is perfect for a quick snack or meal.

34-36 Rue Montorgueil



La Fermette

You can’t miss this fromagerie because of the cow on the roof. Whether cheese afficionado or novice, stop in La Fermette to see (and smell) every kind of French cheese imaginable. Don’t be shy about asking for a recommendation, and you’ll be sure to walk away with the lingering essence of camembert still in your nostrils.

86 Rue Montorgueil 



Boucherie Montorgueil

Vegetarians beware… In this classically French butcher, you can find different kinds of meat in all shapes and sizes, including hanging from the ceiling. The butchers working there seem to know almost all their customers personally, and are perfectly willing to dish out advice on preparing any meal you can name.

62 Rue Montorgueil



Experimental Cocktail Club
To experience more of Montorgueil’s night life, try this small and hidden bar down a quiet side street off rue Montorgueil. It is essentially a private club, and maintains a VIP lounge kind of feeling by limiting the flow of people, complete with a bouncer at the door. The cocktails are delicious, and indeed experimental, meaning they are made with ingredients you have most likely never tasted in a drink. Be prepared to savor the flavor, however, as each one costs around 12 euros.

37 Rue Saint-Sauveur

La Butte aux Cailles

May 1, 2011

Although the 13th arrondissement on the whole is a fairly non-descript district of Paris, the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood is a clear exception, with its high concentration of bars, pubs, and restaurants, many of them boasting open air terraces in the warm weather. This small and residential neighborhood is located at the far southeast corner of the City of Lights, just below the Place d’Italie. That this quartier is a far trek from the center of town is, in fact, a blessing in disguise given that its narrow, cobblestone streets are frequented almost entirely by its Parisian residents.

Admittedly, for an expat or a visitor trying to experience Paris to the fullest, this may not be a weekly or even monthly destination, but it’s worth a periodic visit if only to have a more comprehensive view of the many different Parisian social scenes, this one being the perfect combination of busy and peaceful. It serves as the perfect smaller-scale alternative for dinner and/or drinks with friends, away from the crowded tourist traps and Anglophone pubs of certain central Paris neighborhoods.

Nearly all of the action in this little neighborhood can be found on the aptly named rue de la Butte aux Cailles. In the spring and summer its bars overflow onto the sidewalk with young Parisians drinking from plastic cups. If you’re looking for drinks and/or dinner, simply check out the various menus posted in the doorway of each establishment and pick one that suits you (most restaurants are French). Otherwise consider trying out a few of my personal favorites:

Auberge de la Butte

8 rue de la Butte aux Cailles

Perhaps the most economical choice of cafe, the Auberge de la Butte is one of the smaller and quieter establishments on rue de la Butte aux Cailles. You’re in luck if you go between 5pm and 8pm as their happy hour special includes pints of beer for 4.50 euros and cocktails for 5 euros. As you sit on the sidewalk and sip your drink, enjoy the sights and sounds of the small and peaceful park across the street, often with children playing inside. The service is friendly and accommodating and you can even indulge in cheese or meat platters to whet your appetite for dinner. However, I strongly advise against pre-dinner snacking should you decide to try out this next restaurant…

Chez Gladines

30 rue des Cinq Diamants

Just two blocks away, this Basque style restaurant is already an institution in certain Parisian circles, and is perhaps the one spot in la Butte aux Cailles where you will, in fact, find an international crowd. It has been lauded in various publications including the New York Times, and with good reason. Chez Gladines specializes in big portions and small prices, and as a result there are constantly patrons lining up out the door. Upon arriving, go inside to the bar and put your name on the list. After that, you and your friends may have a significant wait to be seated (on average 30-60 minutes), but the wait goes surprisingly fast while you’re sipping on a glass of beer, wine, sangria, etc, and standing on the sidewalk chatting with friends. However, if you can’t possibly imagine waiting that long to eat, plan to arrive at 7pm sharp when the restaurant opens and you should be seated immediately.

When the waiter steps out the door and yells your name, follow him into the restaurant where you’ll be enveloped by the constant buzz of fun-loving customers enjoying their copious meals. It is not uncommon for various groups to be seated at the same table given the tight quarters, and that, plus the inexpensive wine, means you just may leave the restaurant with more friends than when you arrived. The waiters are friendly and good-humored but somehow continue to move at light speed to serve hundreds of loyal customers.

The menu is simple but fairly long, and includes classic French staples such as various steak, veal, and duck dishes, all of which are in the 11-13 euro range. Otherwise you can choose from the list of Basque specialties (9-12 euros) like chicken, tuna, or omelettes prepared with a Basque sauce made from tomatoes, green and red peppers, and onions.

If you’re looking for something lighter, don’t be fooled by the salads (all of which cost under 10 euros), which are not starters, but rather enormous portions of lettuce, ham, goat cheese, eggs, and potatoes depending on which salad you order. Whichever dish you end up ordering, consider washing it down with a bottle of Bordeaux or Cotes du Rhone, which can cost as little as 14 euros.

Just remember, people don’t go to Chez Gladines for top quality cuisine, but rather for the comfort food, the lively ambiance, and of course for that nice low number that appears on the piece of scrap paper (your bill) delivered by the waiter after your meal.

Le Canal Saint Martin

February 16, 2011

Every year Paris welcomes nearly 50 million visitors, and almost none of them have heard of the Canal Saint Martin. This under-the-radar neighborhood is located in the 10th arrondissement, and is an absolute “must” experience for any visitor or expat who desires a beneath-the-surface feel for Parisian culture that goes beyond the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, or the Champs Elysées.


This is a neighborhood that no one else will tell you about. It brings to mind a visit to Barcelona when my hotel concierge raved about an authentic Galician tapas restaurant run by his friend, but wouldn’t tell me and my girlfriend the name or the address. We were amused by his effort to prevent the “touristification” of his favorite local hangout, and this is precisely the way I feel about the Canal Saint Martin. However, since I assume only several million of the aforementioned 50 million tourists will read this article, I’ve decided to risk writing about it anyway.


Just between the République and Goncourt metro stations, the canal emerges from underground starting at rue du Faubourg du Temple, and continues north through the 10th and the 19th arrondissements and through the Parc de la Villette before leaving Paris city limits. Commissioned by Napolean in 1802, it once was used to import goods to Paris, but nowadays you’ll see only an occasional boat passing slowly through the canal locks.

The Canal has no thousand foot tall monuments, royal-owned property, or world famous museums, and thus isn’t included on many Paris travel itineraries. It does, however, have a great deal of character. The charm of the canal itself is not to be found in its stagnant, murky water, but more so in the sights and sounds all along the canal which contribute most to its appeal.


Many of the bars, cafes, and restaurants that line the canal tend to be low profile, hidden pockets of bustling activity. To move from one to another, you’ll have to amble up or down the calm and peaceful canal banks. Don’t be fooled by this tranquility. To many canal-goers, one of its great pleasures is stepping off the quiet street, and entering into a lively scene where locals take their friends to quench their thirst or their appetite.

One notable exception to this “tranquility” is during the summer months, when the picturesque pedestrian bridges are framed by a plush canopy of trees, and when the banks of the canal fill up at night with bohemian picnickers, many of them snacking on a delicious spread of beer, wine, cheese, bread, ham, and other snacks. However, you can also find a quieter picnic spot in one of the great hidden courtyards of Paris, located within the Hopital Saint Louis (corner of avenue Richerand and rue Bichat).


Although there are very few tourists, the neighborhood remains animated and energetic. Despite some Parisians calling it bo-bo, (bohemian bourgeois, a slightly pejorative term), it is clear that the canal has got grit. In any bar or restaurant, you’re sure to be surrounded by regulars, and as a result the atmosphere is more real and authentic.


To take in this truly Parisian experience, consider trying out the following establishments for dinner and/or drinks:


Chez Prune

Chez Prune is what Parisians call branché, or plugged in. This small and typically French cafe is suitable for drinks before or after dinner, as well as for a hearty snack. Always bustling, Chez Prune attracts a local crowd and offers delectable platters of cheese, ham and salami, vegetables, and even a Mediterranean platter with dips like hummus and tapenade. Each costs 12 euros, and food is served starting at 7:30pm.


The slightly peeling wall paper and the absence of any discernable theme in the café’s décor lets you know that this place is staying in business thanks to locals, and not to tourists looking for luxury. If there are no tables open, don’t hesitate to take a seat at the classic zinc bar and make small talk with the very friendly servers.


36 rue Beaurepaire

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt



Le Jemmapes

One of my favorite bars in Paris, le Jemmapes is the definition of “cozy.” The patrons relax in wicker chairs and speak in quiet tones at worn wooden tables, some of which offer a pleasant vantage point of the canal itself. Old jazz music and candlelit tables complete the pleasant atmosphere. For any beer connoisseur, the small selection of Belgian draught beer sets Le Jemmapes slightly apart from most bars of comparable size. In the summer months, you can ask for a plastic cup and then step outside to join the crowds of young people on the canal banks or even stand on a nearby bridge as you enjoy your drink. Food is also served starting at 8pm (main dishes range from 14-18 euros).


72 Quai de Jemmapes

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt



Hotel du Nord

This restaurant is a must. Although some French people may tell you about the history behind the restaurant (it appeared in a 1930s movie by the same name), the high-quality food and animated atmosphere are the true highlights of this dining experience. The restaurant mostly serves classic French cuisine such as steak, duck, lamb, and scallops, plus a permanent vegetarian option which changes seasonally. The restaurant definitely falls into the category of trendy, but not at all in an ostentatious manner. The dim lighting and energetic music differ significantly from a true French bistro, and make the restaurant worth trying for a slightly more modern interpretation of French dining, if not for the terrific food.


Main dishes range from approximately 17-25 euros. If you’re looking to spend less, you can always go just for a drink. Around 10pm the bar area by the entrance turns into a lively social scene. For dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, make sure to reserve a day or two in advance.

102 Quai de Jemmapes

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt




You can also try any of the following restaurants on or just near the canal:


Spanish: Jours de Fête — Small tapas restaurant great for family style eating with a group, good bang for your buck, and very friendly service.

72 Quai de Jemmapes

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt



Italian: Maria Luisa – Simple and charming brick interior, and the best gourmet pizza I’ve had in Paris. Show up around 8pm to be sure to be seated immediately.

2 rue Marie et Louise

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt



Miscellaneous: Chez Adel – Simple but popular bar run by friendly Greek family with free popcorn, inexpensive homemade meals (7.50 euros for a main dish), and even the occasional amateur musical or theater performance.

10 rue de la Grange aux Belles

Metro: Jacques Bonsergent / République / Goncourt


Discover The Real Montmartre

November 22, 2010

by Eli Maitland

My ears burned when those blasphemous words struck them. “We went to Montmartre today,” said a friend of mine, “and it was awful!” As a self proclaimed lover of Montmartre, at first I took this personally. Then after getting over my initial shock, I finally understood. During their brief visit to Paris, she and a friend had trekked all the way to the northern reaches of the city only to be disappointed by the stressful and teeming scene that takes place there daily. What many Paris visitors and expats don’t realize is that there is more than one Montmartre.

Just a stone’s throw away from the mobs of tourists climbing the crowded streets of Montmartre and up hundreds of steps to the majestic Sacré Cœur Basilica, local Parisians stroll through the narrow streets of the Abbesses neighborhood, dine at its numerous charming restaurants, and fill its lively bars. Escape to this area just west of Sacré Cœur to enjoy all of the charm and romance of Montmartre without the cheap souvenir shops, the throngs of camera-wielding sight-seers, or the pushy peddlers looking to swindle unsuspecting tourists.

The “real” Montmartre is known as the Abbesses neighborhood (the heart of which is the Abbesses metro stop, line 12), and you may recognize it from the movie Amélie. It is indeed one of the few neighborhoods in Paris which offers the same allure in reality as it does on the silver screen. Even the most jaded traveler cannot help but be charmed by the quaint and winding cobblestone streets that weave their way through this hilly neighborhood. Some of these streets are lined with local butcher shops, bakeries, and artisans’ boutiques, others with bars, cafés and restaurants, while others still offer magical and unexpected views of the imposing Sacré Coeur. You may hear the ambient noises of café-goers exchanging pleasantries or the odd accordion player on the sidewalk, but one thing is certain: In the real Montmartre, you will glimpse a slice of Parisian life in its most picturesque state.

To spend a pleasant evening in this neighborhood, consider the following recommendations:


Start by immersing yourself in the culture of the oh-so-French apéritif by stopping at Le Proibido (32 rue Durantin), one of the neighborhood’s newest bars, for a pre-dinner drink. This small yet inviting bar is situated on one of Montmartre’s most charming street corners, which is bustling but not crowded, and lively but not noisy. Although you will undoubtedly hear various languages spoken around you, the Proibido maintains the distinctive feel of a neighborhood bar. Its brick wall interior gives off a warm vibe as the regulars cozy up to the bar and listen to live music, often with inventive combinations of instruments.

If you fancy a snack before dinner, have a look at the tapas menu and order a plate for only three euros. If one could identify an official theme to the Proibido other than pure conviviality, it might be described as vaguely Spanish (one of the co-owners lived in Spain). So as long as you’re having tapas, grab a glass of homemade Sangria as well.

On weekend afternoons, the bar turns café and serves a 14 euro all-you-can-eat brunch. Sunday evenings they offer a delectable raclette dinner for only 6 euros, which may very well be the best dinner deal in Paris. Once your thirst is fully quenched, stroll east along the rue Durantin (which becomes rue des Trois Frères) and work up your appetite for dinner.


For a taste of classic French cuisine, stop for dinner at the Jardin d’en Face (29 rue des Trois Frères). This charming bistro serves traditional French dishes such as filet mignon, magret de canard, and souris d’agneau. However, while their typical French cuisine won’t disappoint, it is the simple yet cozy decor that will transport you to an inviting garden complete with a vine-covered picket fence, a badminton racket, a few watering cans, and colorful sunflowers blossoming on the wall. Then notice the well worn wooden tables plus the slate menus hanging on the wall, and it’s clear that you’re in for a no-frills, yet quite French dining experience.

In case the homey decorations weren’t enough to make you feel chez maman, the mouthwatering tartines most certainly qualify as comfort food. These open face, tasty toasts are carefully covered with inventive combinations such as foie gras and apricot, or goat cheese, honey, and cumin. Although immensely flavorful, the sheer simplicity and “down home” style of this toast-with-topping combination is its greatest appeal.

Although there is outdoor seating during the summer months, try eating à l’intérieur to fully appreciate the ambiance. Being a small restaurant, it tends to fill up quickly with local clientele starting around 8:30pm, so be sure to reserve if you plan to arrive much later. If there are no open tables, try your luck down the street at the Potager du Père Thierry (16 rue des Trois Frères). This was this original restaurant opened by the same owners, and the two menus are identical. The Jardin d’en Face was opened three years ago to accommodate rising demand at the Potager. Starters and desserts cost around 6 euros and main dishes are 13-15 euros.

By the time you stagger out of the restaurant, it will be dark or nearly dark. Let gravity carry you downhill to the nearest intersection, a meeting point of several appealing streets and with no shortage of bars and cafés should the mood strike you for an after dinner drink, or digestif. Otherwise, take a left on rue Tardieu, and make your way toward the Sacré Coeur Basilica. Yes, we are indeed talking about the same Sacré Coeur you’ve been instructed to avoid at all costs.

However, by now the crowds of tourists will have dissipated and the constant street noise will have quieted. Then, just as you reach rue de Steinkerque, you’ll finally have a chance to admire the glowing basilica in all of its symmetric glory, perched high above the city of lights and illuminating the sky around it. Although it is advisable to skip it during the daytime, Sacré Coeur nevertheless remains the definitive symbol of Montmartre, real or otherwise, and must be appreciated even if briefly. Just remember: to get there, take the road less traveled.

These alternate restaurant choices are also highly recommended for both quality and atmosphere:

Italian : Pomodoro (20 rue de la Vieuville)

FrenchLa Mandigotte (68 rue Lepic)