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A Soirée in Paris

The "wobbly" building across from the Fouquet’s Hotel, avenue George V. It’s actually covered with scaffolding and this is a "picture" screened onto it (see how the trees and cars are "straight"?). Pretty hallucinogenic!

Okay, now that the hangover has worn off, let me tell you about Saturday night. After spending fall updating hotel listings for Fodor’s and Eurocheapo, I’ve decided to take a break from tour guiding this month to get some research done for the Naughty Paris guide. Visiting lingerie and "naughty toy" boutiques is easy enough during the day, but I also have a huge list of bars and clubs to check out (no, not those clubs…I’ve got someone else researching that). Basically I’m trying to find the best night spots for the following categories:
  • sexy, low-lit bars where couples can feel like they have a bit of intimacy
  • upscale — but friendly — bars and clubs where women traveling solo would feel comfortable hanging out for a drink
  • stylish bars and clubs where women can meet the locals (the type of place that the Sex & the City ladies would hang out, not student pubs with beer-by-the-metre).

I already have a good list that I can count on, but it’s good to check places that I haven’t been in awhile, as well as test out some of the new ones that have been getting some press. But bar and club hopping tout seul isn’t always very interesting. I like to have a sceond opinion, too. So I recruited a sidekick for the night.

When I tell people what I do for a living, I get a lot of offers to "help with the research". It’s a good thing I always find new people to help out, because most of my cobaye (that’s "guinea pig" en français) don’t last very long! LOL After all, I’m not there to have fun (ie get drunk, hit on the bar tenders and dance on the tables). I’m there to work, darnit! I have to pay attention. And I have to see a lot of places in a short period of time. So here’s how it went:

The Cobaye/Sidekick: Monsieur A (no, not the Monsiuer A, but a cool frenchie nonetheless!)

The List: Bar Fleur’s (Marais), Soirée Loft Party (Salons du Louvre by Amiral-Prod.com),  Soirée Tzars (At Le Marqui/Slow Club by LesTzars.com), Inauguration Soirée of the Galerie du Parc (near St-Sulpice, by WorkinzeCity.org), Le Bar (St-Germain des Prés).

Bar Fleur’s

Act I: The dashing young Monsieur A arrives to pick me up at 8:30pm. We head over to Bar Fleur’s (3 rue des Tournelles, 4th, M° Bastille), a very original hybrid combining an exotic florist boutique and a Champagne/Vodka bar in one place, open noon-2am. One of the owners is Russian, so they were celebrating the Russian New Year. Monsieur A and I had some Champagne and a plate of cheese/meat coldcuts. Great atmosphere, nice selection,and not too pricey (bottles of premium vodka to go could be purchased for under €20). There’s currently an exposition of sketches by artist Vincent Structure on the walls. Highly recommended place for an apéro or a nightcap. Solo-female friendly (get a spot at the bar).

Act II: So we needed food, and me being American (and in "work mode") suggest we grab crêpes on the Place de la Bastille. Monsieur A, the consummate Frenchman, steers me into a proper restaurant/bistro across the street, Gaspard de la Nuit (6 rue des Tournelles) because it has a cute name and looked like it had a nice atmosphere. The decor is very old-fashioned, almost like you’d imagine your French grandma’s house would look, with lace curtains and lots of dried flowers. We both had the lima bean and fig soup (yummy) and then I had ravioles (like mini raviolis) and A had the "Trio Mer" (three different kinds of fish). The food was nice, or "correct" as the French would say, and the prices not too high (about €30 per person without wine). We ended up talking about the French elections (but that’s another blog) until I ordered my cappuccino to refuel for the evening and called an end to the foodie detour.

Gaspard de la Nuit

Act III: Soirées are a very popular occurrence in Paris. They’re basically "private" parties organized in well-known clubs or other venues. Most are only private in that you have to pay to get in. Most have no other requirements (even if they ask you to "register" online to get on The List). I had printed out the invitations to three soirées, all €12 to enter. Two offer a glass of Champagne only if you get there before midnight. It was already 12:30am by the time we got to the Soirée Loft Party at the Salons du Louvre (just behind the Eglise St-Eustache and Montorgueil). The crowd outside seemed a bit young (I’m looking for places that a 30-45 crowd would hang out, not teens), and when Monsieur A asked about the music, they replied "general". I also hate it when people use the word "loft" for anything. The Salons du Louvre are underground, not in a loft. We hesitated, then decided to pass.

Marquis.jpgAct IV: The Tzar Soirée at Le Marquis/Slow Club seemed more promising because we both knew the venue already. Le Marquis used to be called Slow Club (the neon sign is still there), a series of old vaulted stone caves where Parisian jazz greats used to play. It was even a big rap venue in the 80 and 90s. These days it has a sexy boudoir decor of red velour divans, black chandeliers, and low lighting. We paid our €12, got more Champagne, and took a seat in the almost empty venue. "It’s still early," says Monsieur A, but I can’t keep from cringing at the DJs bad selection of music and even worse attempts at mixing. The small crowd that was there was very eclectic (and I don’t think any of them would talk to each other under any circumstances). Monsieur A wants to dance, but I pull the plug on this evening and we head out.

Act V: I’m getting cranky at this point and don’t feel like going to the third soirée on the Left Bank ("We’ll see if there’s any positive press about it before we go"), so that rules out Le Bar at St-Germain-des-Prés, too. I wantto dance, but not to crap music. I suggest we head over to BC near George V. On the way to the last Métro (they keep running until 2am on Saturday nights now), we pass by the Kenzo building on Rue du Pont Neuf. "Hey, let’s go see if anyone is at Kong (1 rue du Pont Neuf, 1st; on top of the Kenzo boutique) tonight," I say. Monsieur A is learning to be flexible and follows along without complaint. There’s a bouncer and a small group of well-dressed Parisians outside. We all go in and get into the glass elevator to go up to the 5th floor. "You’re not going to eat, are you?" I ask th
e other in the elevator. They look horrified. "Oh non! You mustn’t eat there! We’re just going to the bar," they replied. So apparently nothing had changed since my last visit two years ago (or the fact that they made it into the last Sex & the City episode). The restaurant on the top floor was empty, but I showed it to Monsiuer A so he could see the famous glass domed ceiling and views over the Seine. Then we went down one flight to the bar — absolutely packed full of 25-35 y.o. pretty things (very west Parisian-looking) — and tried to "do a tour" (ie just walk all of the way through). It was hot and smoky, but the DJ’s music was excellent and there were more than a handful of women dancing on their chairs to get above the crowd. I was tempted to stay and have a cocktail, but figured we’d probably be there for an hour just trying to get served at the bar (no different than when there’s only 5 people there), so onward to the next bar.

Act VI: We hop on the night bus on the Rue de Rivoli, which takes up to George V and the BC (Black Calavados, 40 ave Pierre Ire de Serbie, 8th). I had been there several times on Thursday night (supposedly the most "rock" of all nights, and in general the best evening to go out in Paris**), but never on the weekend. It was Monsiuer A’s first time. There was a giant American guy in a somewhat aggressive mood waiting to be let into the black door. When he and his three friends are escorted in, I try to follow but the doorman catches me hesitating (d’oh!) and asks if I’m invited. This is good, because he’s not sure. If they just say it’s a "private party", they’re not letting you in. But since he asked me, of course I say yes. Well I actually say (in English), "Oh, I always just come by." He let us in. The bar was full, but not too crowded. It seemed brighter than I remembered it before (maybe too many people tripping in the black and chrome darkness), but the music was excellent as always (AC/DC, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Black-Eyed Peas, etc.) We had two Cosmopolitans — steep at €14/each, but well made and plenty strong). The big American took off his shirt at one point, but the staff managed to convince him to put it back on "You’re scaring the French people," I imagine they said).

The Final Act: It was 3:30am by the time we headed out into the damp evening to take our respective night busses home (yeah, I could have taken a taxi, but the night busses are free and they come every five minutes on Saturday night, so why not?). There was a fleet of tow trucks taking away a whole row of illegally-parked cars along the Avenue George V.


** Why are Thursdays best? Because it’s when the "real Parisians" go out. Supposedly on the weekends it’s when all of the tourists and suburban people come into Paris. If you’re really, REALLY plugged in, then youmay have heard that Tuesday is the new Thursday. For you to decide…

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