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Best eccentric and eclectic bars in Paris

From glam rockers to a bar with a bed in it, sample some of Paris's most unconventional watering holes

By Ellen Hardy

Comptoir Général

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Canal Saint-Martin

Eclectic, easy-going venues like this are more common in Barcelona than in Paris, but here in an old 600 square-metre barn is this offbeat, shabby chic bar, touched with colonial stylings in its black and white tiled floors, stylish chandeliers, red carpets and African souvenirs piled up in every corner. As you walk in, the size of the space blows you away – two enormous, shadowy rooms connected by a smoking area formed from a tropical garden in an enormous greenhouse that creates a well of light in the centre of the venue. In another corner sits a cabinet of curiosities, full of neat rows of skeletons, rare bird feathers and stuffed animals.   Hipsters, boho-chic types and families are all tumbled in together here – a varied but very Parisian mix. We love the atmosphere of the place and its amazing setting, with its odd assortment of armchairs, affordable cocktails, blues and jazz soundtrack and menu of inexpensive Asian dishes. On the downside, a battle for seating rages in the evenings, and the queue outside that builds from 8pm can stretch waiting times into hours. To be sure of enjoying the venue – hidden behind a block of houses on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin – come as early as possible. It’s only open from 5pm at the end of the week. On weekends, a Franco-African brunch is on offer at €16, but try and reserve, as it’s often full.


Bars and pubs Saint-Ambroise

The Barbershop is a thirsty art-lovers’ landmark. Recalling Brooklyn’s trendy gallery-bars, it’s always worth the visit. Temporary exhibitions of street art decorate the walls, and canvases by young painters are for sale at affordable prices, offering great opportunities for the hard up but style-conscious looking to re-do their apartments. Visitors can even consult piles of art and design coffee table books, while comfortably installed in padded Chesterfield armchairs or in shabby chic second hand sofas.DJs mix hip-hop, funk and soul every weekend, and often for private views of the exhibitions. There’s also an affordable menu of good food, a typical menu will take in organic poached eggs en cocotte with creamed mushrooms, followed by the house cheeseburger or a tender faux-filet of Angus beef in a Roquefort sauce. For dessert, we recommend the sinfully good tiramisu with a cinnamon biscuit base. The midday menu is really very reasonably priced – €13 on weekdays – or €22 for brunch. Outside, there’s a lovely terrace, heated in winter.


Le Kremlin

Bars and pubs Abbesses

A Russian outpost in the middle of Pigalle? It’s not, in fact, a hostess bar, but a rather a super cool new venue that’s been heaving from the word go – it’s difficult to clear a path to the bar through the mob to order one of the fantastic imported vodkas or original cocktails (€8 to €11). The young team aren’t afraid to blast out a good selection of music, or to throw together bold mixtures of local and imported booze. Try the Negroni Lenin (honey-flavoured 42 Below vodka, Gran Classico and Campari), the Red Star (mezcal, fresh beetroot and Carpano) or even the Red Army (Gin Carpano, green Chartreuse and orange bitters). If you prefer beer, opt for one of the imported bottles: a Kremlin or one of the numerous Baltika beers, at very reasonable prices (between €3.5 and €5 a go). Once you’ve finally got hold of your drink, enjoy the respite from the throng and pass an eye over the sumptuous communist red décor, punctuated with propaganda posters and quaint Soviet-style furniture. You can also take the occasional breather in the little cul-de-sac outside. In contrast to the design scheme, the clientele is very Parisian.

La Féline

Bars and pubs Café bars Ménilmontant

La Féline is a minuscule rock’n’roll bar near Ménilmontant. Its posters of 50s rock groups and its rockabilly music – much of which is produced by its own eponymous record label – attract the crowd you might expect: punks and their dogs, the pierced and the tattooed, hipsters and ageing rockers. The bar is always being propped up by dangerously sexy glam rock chicks, all leopard skin dresses and leather skirts, peep-toe shoes, slim cigars and the reddest of red lipsticks – everyone’s done up to the nines and the general feeling is of being on film. But the ambiance doesn’t suffer from its particular mise en scène – on the contrary, the clientele are charming, everyone hanging out drinking beer in casual groups. The place is so well known that many young tourists come for a visit just out of curiosity – everyone on this scene goes back and forth between here and Chez Zack, another tiny bar directly opposite, but La Féline remains the destination of choice. Small concerts are organised regularly, and sometimes screenings, but come early if you want any chance of a seat.


Marlusse et Lapin

Bars and pubs Café bars Abbesses

A stone’s throw from the sex shops of Pigalle and the tourist bars of Montmartre, Marlusse et Lapin seems like a delightful alien. It’s named for the surnames of the couple that run this tiny, completely bonkers bar on the Rue Germain Pilon – they’re always laughing with the elderly Montmartre types who come here to chew the fat with the area’s boho chic habitués. Here, after-hours drinking is a riot, drenched in absinthe and crazy shots that will bring you back again and again to chat with the locals – and not least because of the great prices. Still, avoid the busiest hours if you want to get a table, as they’re pretty hard to come by.The bar is microscopic, but in the room behind there’s a surprising amount of space: this is ‘Grandma’s Chamber’. With its classic flowered wallpaper, its black-and-white photos of stern-looking great-great aunts and uncles, a bed pressed into service as a double banquette, a switchboard-era telephone, a sewing machine and a Normandy chest of drawers, you almost expect to fall over granny in her nightgown. The owners don’t, however, organise knitting classes or rounds of bridge – entertainment is more in the vein of classic cinema screenings on Sunday afternoons.

Point Ephémère

Music Music venues Canal Saint-Martin

Housed in a former warehouse for art deco construction materials, Point Ephémère capitilises on its position next to the waters of the Canal Saint-Martin with a great outdoor area. In 2004 it was an artist’s squat of some 1,400 metres squared, which quickly became hugely popular and near permanent – to the chagrin of Paris’s City Council. Today, this breeding ground of all things artistic organises exhibitions, concerts and evenings of independent music specialising mostly in cutting edge pop, rock, electro and hip-hop, all of which are within reach of youthful budgets (€10-12 entry).We like the Berlinesque setting with its layers of graffiti, its bare concrete, its enormous glass roof and its small-scale exhibitions. In summer from 6.30pm to 9.30pm, the aperitifs attract the crowds – reaching the bar can be something of an achievement. You can eat lunch and dinner here on the pretty, sunny terrace, and the food is good if a little expensive for the portion size. You’ll jump every time a fire engine zooms out of the neighbouring fire station, but will soon settle back in next to the water.


Le Vieux Léon

Bars and pubs Café bars Les Halles

Few of the bars around the Halles market provoke a desperate desire to stop and have a drink. They tend to be cold, unwelcoming dives squeezed between two kebab shops and full of the forum’s shoppers, practically encouraging the passer-by to hurry on past. But that’s not counting Le Vieux Léon, a charming little neighbourhood bar that fills your outstretched arms with well-priced pints, charcuterie boards and free concerts. Even better, it also hosts a weekly quiz with a bottle of champagne offered to the most knowledgeable music lover – though beware, the winner has to organise the next week’s quiz, complete with esoteric bonus questions. In winter, the bloody battles over the original author of a song or film keeps the place warm, while in summer the terrace offers a restorative sunny corner.

Delaville Café

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Grands Boulevards

The Delaville Café in an unmissable stop on the Grands Boulevards, possessed as it is of a vast sunny terrace equipped with atomisers, open from springtime onwards. Frequented by the chic – the children of celebrities, designers and journalists, wannabe fashionistas – the ambiance, like most of the bars in the area, is a little precious. But the décor of the huge venue is a delight, a lively mixture of ancient gilt rococo and post-industrial baroque furniture. If you’re wondering what sort of past could have produced all this ancient marble and tempered steel, the café’s previous incarnations include being a brothel in Napoleon’s Paris in the 19th century, an upmarket eatery during the Belle Epoque, a Chinese restaurant and finally a trendy café-restaurant. The pomp of its past has left us with the staircase, all marble and iron fretwork, colonnades, ceilings of sculpted wood and the bar’s elegant gilded mosaics.Today, the high glass ceiling between the bar and the terrace is stunning, full of light even in winter, and the back room surprises with all the decadence of an upmarket London club: banquettes in red pleather, stuffed animals and plasma screens. In the restaurant, if the menu of world cuisine looks intriguing (chicken with accents of mango, turmeric and lemongrass, say) the flavours tend to disappoint – bar the tiramisu with Nutella – making this a place for a drink rather than dinner. DJs mix unobtrusive electro lounge sets on weekends. Free Wi-Fi.


Le Charlus

Bars and pubs Café bars République

Le Charlus is fast becoming the worst-kept secret in Paris: we almost don’t want to tell you about it, as an increasingly unmanageable crowd crams itself into this little café with irresistible charm, its sign barely visible as you traverse the Rue Albert Thomas near to République. Once inside, you discover a well-presented space with coloured lights on the ceiling, stone walls and red curtains that open on to a pub stage. Here, talented actors take turns every Thursday night to improvise under the watchful eye of improv guru Farid Rezgu. Insane direction is provided by the public, who throw the performers challenges such as developing a musical comedy on the theme of ‘the laser-armed octopus’. The actors have to perform hilarious feats of imagination to keep up, reducing the audience to tears of laughter as much as any sober appreciation of acting talent.Opened by a former literature student, Le Charlus is a clear reference to the famous protagonist of Proust’s ‘La Recherce du Temps Perdu’ – a sophisticated allusion not out of place at the venue’s dictées [dictation exercises playing on the intricacies of French structure, like a spelling bee for adult grammarians] every Tuesday evening. What other bar offers, among the charcuterie boards and reasonably-priced glasses of red wine, a choice between watching actors improvising around ‘the hairdryer of death’, or struggling with the conjugation of past participles with ‘avoir’? Entry is free – what more could you ask?

Lou Pascalou

Bars and pubs Café bars Ménilmontant

A café and art space in Ménilmontant, Lou Pascalou has been also been enthusiastically appropriated as a neighbourhood canteen thanks to its endlessly inventive nature. There’s nothing trendy here, but rather a sweetly boho chic hangout and its youthful local clientele. The drinks are at rock bottom prices (€2.50), as is the food (shepherd’s pie from €6.50) and there’s an enormously varied range of entertainment. On the first Wednesday of the month you’ll find screenings of short films, on the third a theatrical improv competition organised by the Parisian League of Improvisation, and every Sunday there are gypsy jazz concerts, Brazilian music, French singers, flamenco, rock, brass bands and more. You can always look forward to a celebratory atmosphere in this charming bar, which also hosts temporary exhibitions every month, invites you to participate in citizen’s debates, and places board games at your disposal. On weekends the bar is rammed, so don’t arrive too late if you want to be able to find a seat.


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