Author’s note: Actual helpful info at the end of this rant.
Yeah, it’s hot in Paris. Very hot. And before you try and tell me that it’s hot in Houston, too, remember that it’s hot everywhere in Paris, not just outside. It’s hot in the métro. It’s hot in the Eiffel Tower elevator. It’s hot at Versailles. It’s hot in my seventh-floor oven…er, apartment. I would check to see if I could fry an egg on the tin windowsill (I’m right under the roof) if I was sure the yolk wouldn’t slide down onto my neighbor’s balcony below. It’s also hot in practically every single restaurant. Even the ones that advertise climatisation.
A true story:
On Friday I had a group visiting from the US. We had reservations at their favorite Italian restaurant in the Marais, Café Baci. The night before they had suffered through dinner at the un-air-conditioned Willie’s Wine Bar, so just in case I decided to check the Café Baci in advance. In person. I stopped by at lunch and the air was warm, all of the windows and doors opened onto the sidewalk. "No air?" I ask. "Only upstairs," they replied. Perfect, that’s where they want to sit.
So I arrive before the rest of the group that night, and am greeted with the worst phrase one could possibly hear in these situations: "Il y’a un problème." Apparently the A/C upstairs broke. "But we have it downstairs in the back. I go to check, and it does indeed feel cooler. But as I sit at the bar with my apéro, waiting for my friends, the manager arrives and starts opening the large window-doors overlooking the sidewalk. I ask the waitress, "Won’t it stay cooler if you keep the windows closed?" She agrees, but says the management wants them to stay open.
I’m not even going to get into the French obsession with "terrace" (sidewalk) seating and their aversion to A/C. According to one friend, they don’t even like air from a fan, thinking all drafts are unhealthy drafts. I’m not going to say a thing. I wait a moment, then casually walk over to the back room once more. It’s exactly the same temperature as outside now. I can’t feel even the faintest wisp of cool air coming from the vents. My friends arrive.
"We have a problem." They all go upstairs, which is ten times hotter, then order drinks at the bar while I call the closest restaurant in Paris that advertises A/C. The directory assistance number I call can’t seem to find the number for Bofinger, one of the city’s historic brasseries. They finally give me a number and I call.
"Do you have A/C?"
"Does it work?"
"Do you have place for eight in fifteen minutes?"
I announce the short walk. They’re good troopers (they think they’re getting A/C). We arrive, now good and sweaty in our nice clothes, at Bofinger. The maitre’d doesn’t have my reservation, says he didn’t get my call, and that he doesn’t have any room for us. "What number did you call?" I look at the texto that directory assistance sent and show it to him. "ah, that’s Petit Bofinger, across the street."
I herd my herd back outside and across the street, where a big sign proudly announces an air-conditioned non-smoking section. It’s in the back. It’s about one degree cooler than the rest of Paris. We all pile into our seats, defeated, sweaty, exhausted by the heat. We fan ourselves with the menu, hoping it will feel cooler once we settle down.
It didn’t. They still had the windows open in the front room (for the smokers, I’m guessing), and since there’s no door separating the front from the back…well, I’m not going to explain how circulation works, but I remember what my mother said if I held the front door open too long. "What are you trying to do? Refrigerate the whole city?"
As promised, here’s some genuinely useful info:
– L’As du Falafel, 4th: There are two rooms in this Jewish falafel stand, one that’s air-conditioned, and one that has eight high-powered fans attached to the walls. Bonus: open Sunday.
– Ladurée Tea Room and Pastry Shop, Champs Elysées, 8th: It’s not high-powered air, but it’s cool enough to keep the pastries from melting, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. A bit pricey, yes, but you can’t beat those macarons! Bonus: open daily until 1am.
– La Chope, Place de la Contrescarpe, 5th: Not only is the terrace of this café equipped with water misters, there are also rotating ceiling fans made up of mini fans (see photo). This must be a first. Not A/C’d, but A+ for effort!
– McDo at Place d’Italie, 13th: It has free WiFi and air conditioning so cold I actually had goose bumps after a half hour. And no one working there seemed to care that I stayed at my corner downstairs with my laptop for four hours on one hot afternoon, trying to finish an article that was already past due. Did I mention it’s within eye-sight of my apartment (aka, The Oven)? There are other McDo’s, but I haven’t tried any of them.
– Pozzetto, 39 rue Roi de Sicile, 4th: Not A/C’d at all, but according to the expert David Lebovitz, this is where you’ll find the best gelato in Paris, open until midnight, à consommer sans moderation!