M° Bercy, Cour St-Emilion
The Bercy district has always been associated with wine. When it was still a rural village outside the city walls, Parisians came to drink cheap, untaxed wine at the many guinguettes along the river. To have “Bercy fever” was once a popular Parisian euphemism for being drunk. In the late 19th century Bercy became the center of the French wine market. Its newly created Halles de Bercy, a city within the city, had its own shops, craftsmen, growers and negotiators, working to buy and sell the wine that arrived by rail and boat. Wine was stored in rows of large stone chais (storehouses), before being bottled and shipped around the world. Changes in modern transportation and economics slowly made this market obsolete, and by the 1970s, Bercy was an industrial wasteland full of squatted buildings, rusty railroad tracks, and weeds. City officials decided it would be best to rehabilitate the neighborhood from scratch, and after two decades of massive construction projects, Bercy does indeed look completely different. But despite a few modern eyesores, the overall results are quite impressive, and Bercy has become a genuinely pleasant place to spend the day.
Arrive in Bercy in style on the Météor, the city’s first driverless metro (line 14), getting off at station Cour St-Emilion. The first thing you see is Bercy Village, two rows of rehabilitated wine storehouses converted into a pedestrian-only shopping and entertainment center. The boutiques, restaurants and bars aren’t really unique (most have branches in other Paris commercial centers), but the converted chais add architectural interest, and the café terrace seating along the central cobblestoned pathway provides the perfect setting for al fresco Sunday brunch. Behind Bercy Village are the Pavillons de Bercy, a row of 19th-century mill warehouses currently used by a baking school and the privately-owned Musée des Arts Forains (53 Avenue Terroirs-de-France, 12th), dedicated to antique fairground arts.
The Rue des Pirogues de Bercy is named after three pirogues (dugout canoes) – dating back to 4500 BC –discovered during construction work. They’re now on display at the Musée Carnavalet.
Cross back through Bercy Village to the Parc de Bercy. This large park is made up of two sections connected by two arching footbridges. On one side is a romantic-style garden with a duck pond, and on the other side are more formal gardens with themed flower beds, labyrinth and mini-vineyard (for nostalgic purposes). Century-old trees and cobblestoned lanes that used to transport the wine to the Seine have been preserved to give the park an aged feel, and the old tax collection house has been converted into the Maison de Jardinage. Stop in to browse through the gardening library or take a break on the sun porch (open afternoons).
At the far end of the park is the Cinémathèque Française (51 Rue de Bercy, 12th ), originally built as the American Center by Frank Gehry (architect of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum). It closed after just two years when the association, which had prospered for many years at its former Left Bank location, went bankrupt. Empty since 1996, the building was completely renovated and reopened as the Cinémathèque and Museum in 2005.
Continue past the grassy pyramid known as the POPB (Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, 2 Boulevard de Bercy, 12th M° Bercy) a modular sports and concert stadium with a public ice-skating rink. On the other side, Bercy’s frontier is marked by the monstrous Ministry of Finance building, its front pillars plunged defiantly into the Seine like an unfinished bridge. It was opened in 1989 to replace the ministry’s former premises in the Louvre.