Summer might be over now that it’s September and all of the kids have gone back to school (or, more likely to their home computers), but Paris always has the best Indian Summers in the fall, and with Covid cases back on the rise, there’s nowhere better to enjoy happy hour with friends than on a rooftop where you get maximum air circulation and minimum car exhaust. But where to go?
Every summer we’re inundated with the latest lists of the “hottest new rooftop bars” or “best summer terraces”, usually illustrated with gorgeous press photos or artsy Instagram-friendly pics, but light on any useful information aside from the address and – if we’re lucky – opening hours. You don’t have to live in Paris very long to realize that there’s more to the story: they don’t take reservations and lines wind around the block; they take reservations but only if you book the three-course dinner as well; there’s no view except from one table reserved for the “habitués” (aka “owner’s friends); you’re in full sun with zero shade; the seats are really uncomfortable (no one over 30 wants to sit on a wooden stool for two hours); the prices are absurdly high for what you get; the bar is actually trying to be a nightclub, so the music will be too loud for you to actually talk to your friends…get the idea?
Maybe none of this is a big deal when you live in Paris; you live and you learn. But when you’re only visiting, how do you know if it’s really worth your time to cross town and potentially have to wait in line for one of these hotspots? You’d think that’s what all these articles would be able to tell you, but sadly they do little more than act as click-bait puff pieces (sometimes specifically to appease the bar promoter who invited them to try it for free). So, I thought I’d check out a few of them for you.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind all of these places were tested in the middle of a pandemic, so might not be indicative of what they’d be like when things go “back to normal”.
Le Perchoir Porte de Versailles
Le Perchoir has three other locations on the Right Bank that have been popular with local hipsters for a few years, such as the one on top of BHV; it’s usually hard to snag a table at the rooftop bar because they only take reservations if you’re at least 4 people, and you have to make a reservation “request”, meaning you can’t just go online and see where there are openings. You have to request a specific date and time and they will get back to you within 24 hours to tell you if it’s available or not (although it is possible for the restaurant).
The website description of their newest location on the Left Bank: “Faithful to the group’s epicurean DNA, a bar and restaurant with a unique concept, nestled on the panoramic terrace of Pavilion 6 of the Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles, in the heart of Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm.” This isn’t a part of Paris anyone hangs out voluntarily unless they live there or are attending a show at the conference center. The photos of the space itself looked great, but I was dubious of the view and whether it was really worth crossing town to see it. I was going to visit the urban farm anyway, so I chalked this one up to killing two birds with one 30-minute Vélib ride across Paris. As they open at 6pm, I figured I’d just show up first to be able to enjoy a drink at the bar and take a few pics since there was no way for “Heather, party of 1” to reserve.
Le Perchoir Porte de Versailles
2 Avenue de la Porte de la Plaine, 15th
Metro and Tram Porte de Versailles (there’s a Vélib stop that’s closer)
Open Monday-Friday 6pm-2am, Saturday noon-2am, Sun noon-midnight
You can also access it from inside Paris Expo – Porte de Versailles Pavillon 6 if it’s open.
The Good: There’s a ton of space so you don’t feel like you’re on top of each other, and the décor is nice with the wooden pergolas, potted trees, and sofa-like seating for the big tables. Some of the food comes from the urban farm that you can see from the bar (I’m guessing tomatoes, zucchini and some herbs, from what I can see growing). This would be a great place for a drink if you need a break from a trade show you’re attending downstairs. There were only a few people there on a Wednesday at 6pm, who looked like they may have come directly from work with colleagues.
The Bad: Unless you’ve booked a table for at least 4, you can’t sit at those comfy tables, you get one of the tiny wrought iron tables. The drinks aren’t the most expensive in Paris, but they’re also rather stingy pours. I didn’t try the food, but every review I’ve read so far says “too expensive for what you get”. Ouch. The service seemed a bit chaotic; they seemed to not notice I was there for the first 20 minutes (fine with me, I took photos), but they also appeared to be quickly overwhelmed once the bar begins to fill up at 7pm. Maybe it was a bad day, but the other reviews I read online describe slow, unfriendly, and unprofessional service. Double ouch.
The Ugly: The view, or rather lack of it. You don’t even really feel like you’re on a rooftop at all, more like a parking lot that happens to have some plants growing (the farm might be revolutionary, but it’s not Instagrammable). Even if you could see in the distance, you’re facing the southern suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux, not Paris. The most intriguing thing I could see was the colorful rooftop bar of a much taller building next door. Which just happened to be the next rooftop bar on my list.
Mama Shelter West
I’ve always loved the original Mama Shelter hotel in East Paris. Built in a former parking garage across from the (now closed) Flêche d’Or music bar, it was one of the first stylish-yet-fun budget hotels in the city. Although I was loathe to go all the way to the Porte de Bagnolet, I thought their rooftop barbeques were a great idea. So I was excited for this new location on the Left Bank, even if it was at the Porte de Versailles.
They have a rooftop restaurant with its own terrace open for dinner, and another larger rooftop terrace open all day long from 7am-midnight. Their website lets you book your table online for the rooftop, however you won’t find any slots for 2:30pm-7pm because reservations aren’t necessary during those hours (which I only found out when I called to see if there was room for one at 6:30pm).
Mama Shelter West
20 avenue de la Porte de Plaine, 15th
Metro and Tram Porte de Versailles (there’s a Vélib stop that’s closer)
Tel 01 70 94 14 14 (Restaurant)
Rooftop open daily 7am-2am; restaurant from 6pm.
The Good: The views overlooking Paris were a huge improvement over Le Perchoir down below. There are a few options for seating, the best spot being the little bird’s nest in the corner. You can also sit just inside, where the huge glass windows give you the views without the weather. The service is friendly and attentive (they encouraged me to walk around to take better photos). They didn’t blink when I asked for my chilled Café Frappé with non-dairy milk. Prices are about the same as Le Perchoir (soft drinks €5, €6 for my café frappé, wine from €6, and cocktails from €10). If you’re looking for a room, they start at €89. There’s a mix of young and older clients, including a few solo like me, on their laptop or smartphone.
The Bad: The Novotel next door (not open quite yet) blocks the best views of the Eiffel Tower unless you’re sitting in the tables at the corners of the terrace. The decor is a bit more eclectic, which can feel cramped. I didn’t eat here (not one vegan option, Guy Savoy?), but the reviews are mixed (more on the speed of the service than the quality of the food itself). This could be from the reduced staff due to Covid for such a large space.
The Ugly: Okay, you’re still in the nether regions of the 15th, so when arriving and leaving you’re in a fairly sterile environment (and a good five-minute walk from the metro along a lifeless boulevard, rather creepy after dark). So how about something a little closer?
Wanderlust Street Food
Wanderlust isn’t new. It’s one of the only original venues still open at Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design at Quai d’Austerlitz in the 13th since opening in 2011. It’s a mostly open-air, multi-use venue where you could come for brunch, yoga sessions, watch movie screenings on the exterior façade, or come later in the evening for the indoor club. But what has opened after Paris came out of confinement has been rebranded as Wanderlust Street Food, only open for dinner and, more importantly, open-air clubbing. It’s not far from my apartment, so I had seen the nightly lineup of (very) young clubbers waiting to get in each time I passed by after dark.
When I heard the terrace was reopening in June with the new Street Food theme, I went online to check it out. Amidst the hype for the chef (a Top Chef France contestant) were the strict rules of engagement meant (presumably) to keep everyone safe from Covid: you had to book and pay for your dinner at least three days in advance from the €24 menu; you would be seated upon arrival and brought your order to avoid “circulation”; you had two hours to eat and then give up your table for the next group.
But what about just having a drink? I sent an email and was told that I could get an invitation from one of the club promoters (a different one each night, announced on FB) if I just wanted to come for the bar (and, I guess, stay to dance). So I scanned the posts on FB, found the one promoting the club Saturday night, and requested my free invite through Weezevent. It had been raining off and on all day Saturday, but I went anyway at 7:30pm to have a drink.
Wanderlust Street Food
32 quai d’Austerlitz,13th
Metro Quai de la Gare or Gare d’Austerlitz
Open Tuesday-Saturday 6pm-2am, Sunday 4pm-1am
The entrance is via the street side, not from inside Les Docks.
The Good: There wasn’t a line yet, so I walked right in and avoided paying a €15 cover charge (with drink) since I had my invite. I actually didn’t even show the invite, I just said “I’m just here for a quick drink, I won’t be staying long,” and the bouncer waived me in. The green cocoon is still home to the bar, where I got a ginger beer (€6). The rest of the space was divided into “zones” for different kinds of seating, most of it covered, and another section reserved for the open-air dance club. There are actually quite a few tables with views over the river, which are first come, first served. The crowd was a bit more mixed than I would have guessed (ie I wasn’t the only person over 40), but clearly more people were there for the club than for the restaurant.
The Bad: A bit like Le Perchoir, you’re not exactly on the rooftop here. It’s more like a side terrace, with Café Oz Bar occupying the highest terrace in Les Docks. The views are also not exactly scenic, unless you like the industrial vibe of East Paris and it high rises (and Parisians may shiver at the sight of “Le Fisc” on the other side of the river).
The Ugly: Before it got too busy, I had a chat with the bartender and the restaurant cashier to ask about how the whole dinner thing was working out. Apparently they got rid of the reservations and the table service (“less staff to pay”). Once you pay for your three-course meal, you take your vouchers to different counters to pick up your own food. There’s a different counter for the drinks, the main dish and the dessert. “Sometimes the lines are really long,” says the bartender. The cashier said you don’t have to reserve in advance, but everyone has to order the €24 menu, no à la carte service. Maybe that’s why I only saw three people in the Street Food line before I left at 8:30pm. The portions are tapas sized, and the options very limited. I’m not sure what the draw would be, but maybe the misty weather was putting me in a grumpy mood.
Bonus: Café Oz Rooftop
A quick shout out for the Café Oz Rooftop bar at Les Docks, which has more of a spacious, open-air feel than Wanderlust down below. I didn’t stop in here for a drink simply because it’s table service only, minimum two people. It’s open Wednesday-Friday from 5pm-2am (Saturday from 4pm). If you come after 7pm there’s a €15 cover charge with a drink (that isn’t charged at any other Café Oz bar in Paris). This is an Australian theme bar popular with sports fans because they usually show the matches. The crowd seemed a bit older (normal for expat pubs), but, again, it was a fairly wet and cool Saturday night and I only had a quick peek while chatting with the doormen, so I’m not sure if that’s normal. I should point out that weather doesn’t deter Parisians from sitting outside because a lot of them still smoke. The entrance is from within Les Docks (up the staircase in the green tube).
Le Crillon Rooftop Bar
Most of the city’s palace hotels have stayed closed for lack of enough guests to make it worth the cost of paying their highly-trained staff. So when I heard Le Crillon was opening a new rooftop bar to celebrate their reopening last week, I had to add it to this list, right? I did try to rope in a wing(wo)man to accompany me on this particular visit, because at the prices they charge in palace hotel bars, you really should stay for as long as possible and have good company to enjoy it with you (I always recall one Parisian friend explaining the exorbitant cost of a coffee on the terrace at Café Deux Magots: “You’re buying a timeshare of real estate on the best people-watching corner in Paris, enjoy it!”
When I checked the website over the weekend, it specifically instructed guests to email for reservations, which I dutifully did, asking if there were any openings at all before Tuesday. This was their response (translated):
“Thank you for your message and for your interest in the Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel. We would be delighted to welcome you on our new rooftop “Bonsoir Paris” every day from 5:00 pm. Our ephemeral rooftop will be open until October 4 inclusive. Allow us to inform you that we are not taking reservations for our rooftop. We invite you to come directly to the Hotel and we will do our best to welcome you depending on availability upon your arrival. We wish you a very nice day and remain at your entire disposal for any further information. See you soon at 10, Place de la Concorde. Truly, Aurélie Hebert, Catering and Hygiene Coordinator”
Of course they have their very own Hygiene Coordinator. 😉
I had hoped to visit over the weekend, but the rainy Paris weather meant it was closed until yesterday, when I agreed to meet my friend Laurent at 6pm to check it out. It was exceptionally nice out, with that perfect late-afternoon sunshine lighting up the buildings while the dark clouds stayed mercifully in the background. I figured it would be quiet on a Monday. I was wrong. Apparently I’m not the only one in need of a bit of pampering.
There were only two other groups in front of us when we arrived at the entrance on the Place de la Concorde, so we didn’t have to wait at all to get to the front. “Do you have a reservation?” asked a petite woman with a clipboard. “I was told when I emailed that reservations weren’t possible,” I explained. She didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, for the rooftop that is correct,” she said apologetically. We soon learned the wait would be about 90 minutes. A tad too steep for Laurent, who needed to get home. But I needed to know if it was worth the wait (and I had a fully charged phone for once), so I agreed to wait patiently on the patio seating. I took the opportunity to catch up on emails, and also to test the Crillon Ice Cream Truck parked out front (next to the luxury sports cars) – my next article will be about my five favorite sorbet shops in Paris.
True to their word, I was escorted upstairs at 7:30pm by no less than three different staff, each one who apologized for my wait, and seated at a large communal table with two other couples in the center of the long and narrow space. With only one or two exceptions, French is the only language I hear. It seems to be mostly locals at the bar.
Bonsoir Paris Rooftop at Le Crillon
10 Place de la Concorde, 8th
Tel 01 44 71 15 69
Open daily from 5pm-11pm through October 4th
The Good: There’s nothing like the service of a five-star palace hotel. And (almost) without exception, you can expect to be treated like a valued guest no matter who you are. When seated, you’re presented with a small paper bag that at first I took for an air sickness bag (some people are afraid of heights, right?), but was soon informed it was for my mask. Clever. The cocktail menu is a joy to read, each one inspired by Parisian characters such as Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and street artists (such as Monsieur Chat and D*Face). There are little bar snacks you can order. Otherwise your drink comes with little dishes of olives and caramelized cashews. Of course the view is awesome, being the center of Paris.
The Bad: I’m pretty sure I had the seat with the worst view in the entire rooftop bar. This was confirmed by the gentleman sitting across from me with his girlfriend, who encouraged me to scoot my stool around for a better view of Paris, social distancing be damned. But honestly, I can see the view over Paris anytime. I was actually perfectly perched to check out the bar and its clientele (perhaps the staff figured out I was a journalist after all).
As much as I wanted one of the evocative cocktails, I had work to do that evening (and was planning on Vélibing home), and I’m far too much of a lightweight to handle cocktails on an empty stomach, even if I was ready to shell out €27 for the pleasure of doing so. I didn’t want to order a €10 Perrier, either though. So I ordered a glass of red. The waiter confirmed this three times. “Le rouge?” “Oui.” I later figured out once I looked carefully at the non-cocktail menu that there was only one red wine by the glass, a lovely 2017 Burgundy. And it was €29 a glass (the white wines started at €19). I really should follow my own advice of “ALWAYS check the price of the wine before ordering.” My bad, not theirs.
The Ugly: The whole point of going to a palace hotel bar is to avoid any hint of ugliness at all. So the worst part was certainly the wait. Although even the waiting area was more luxurious than my own apartment, so it feels lame to whine about it. Although I must admit the bar stools in the rooftop, even with the cushions, are not nearly as comfy as the ones downstairs (granted, there’s less space upstairs).
When I was paying for my drink, I had a little chat with my server. “So, who can reserve?” I asked, since they had asked me downstairs. She explained that hotel guests can reserve, but not anyone else. “Did you know on your website it says you have to reserve by email?” I asked. She seemed surprised. “That must be an error. We’re still getting everything organized since opening last week.” I might have been pushing it, but I also mentioned that the French and English versions weren’t quite the same. “The French version says you opened August 24th, and the English version says September 24th,” I tease with a smile. Again, she looks concerned, but doesn’t miss a beat. “They probably were thinking of the restaurant, which opens later this month.” I finish by trying to find out what time would be best to come by if I didn’t want to wait 90 minutes. “Tomorrow all of the children go back to school, so it will probably be a lot quieter here,” she said. “But if you come a few minutes before we open, you definitely won’t have to wait.”
Less than 24 hours after this conversation with the young server, I notice the website has been corrected. Nothing like attentive service to brighten one’s day. Would I go back? Definitely. I need to try one of those cocktails. But it will have to wait for another weekend this month. Working women can’t be boozing it up at 5pm just any day of the week!
Do you have your own “rooftop terrace” take to tell? Let me know in the comments!