When the city's northern boundaries were expanded in 1860, Ménilmontant and Belleville (once villages that provided Paris with wine and weekend escapes) were absorbed into central Paris, first housing migrants from rural France, then populations from former colonies in North Africa and Asia. Nowadays it's still cheap and cosmopolitan, with artists' colonies in its upper stretches and a Chinese quarter around the Boulevard de Belleville. Up on the slopes of Les Hauts de Belleville, there are great views over the city from Rue Piat and Rue des Envierges, which lead to the modern but charming Parc de Belleville. Another parkland to explore nearby is the Père Lachaise cemetery, where the likes of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and 'little sparrow' Edith Piaf party in the afterlife.
'Mesnil-Montant' used to be just a few houses on a hill with vines and fruit trees; then came the bistros, bordellos and workers' houses. These days it's a thriving centre of alternative Paris, as artists and young professionals have moved in. Although several side streets still have male-only North African cafés, Rue Boyer is home to two of Paris' most buzzing venues: the Bellevilloise multidisciplinary arts centre and La Maroquinerie concert hall. You'll also find a profusion of hip bars along Rue de Ménilmontant, which descends into Oberkampf, home to yet more nightlife entertainment. Heading east of here, beyond Père Lachaise, follow the 'it' crowds to Rue de Bagnolet for drinks at Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter hotel and music at Flêche d'Or, a concert hall set in a former train station.
Music and Nightlife in Belleville and Ménilmontant
This much-loved indie and electro venue, which reopened in November 2009 after a six-month shutdown, is set in the old Charonne train station - a quirky setting for concerts by a stream of local and international groups and DJs. Needless to say the line ups are eclectic, with three or four bands a night.
You don't have to have a room at Mama Shelter hotel to take advantage of its bar and restaurant - veritable dens of cool, frequented by international fashionistas. Prop yourself up at the bar for cocktails like 'Mama Loves You' (Vodka Russian Standard, abricot Brandy, jus de Cranberry) and 'Lemon Tree' (Vodka Smirnoff black, apple juice, lime and lemongrass cordial); then soak it all up with the top notch brasserie fare.
Bankable, loveable and conveniently surrounded by the numerous bars of rue Oberkampf and tucked behind the legendary Café Charbon, Nouveau Casino is a concert venue that also hosts some of the city's liveliest club nights. Local collectives, international names and record labels, such as Versatile, regularly host nights here; it's well worth checking the website for one-offs and after-parties.
The Bellevilloise is the latest incarnation of a building that once housed the capital's very first workers' co-operative. Now it competently multitasks as a bar, restaurant, club and exhibition space, hosting regular film and music festivals on the top level (where there's a fake lawn with deckchairs and a massage area). Enjoy brunch in the Halle aux Oliviers or decent views of the quartier from the charming terrace; downstairs the club-cum-concert venue has launched some of Paris's most exciting new bands, and on '80s nights you can hardly move for the thirtysomethings living it up like they were 20 again. Live jazz music at the Sunday brunch.
La Maroquinerie's former life as a leather factory is little in evidence these days. It's now a bright café and bar in competition with La Bellevilloise, with a coveted downstairs concert venue that hosts the odd literary debate and a wealth of cool music acts. It's home to the Inrocks Indie Club nights, but there are still traces of its world music roots. The food is excellent - you can eat your way through the menu quite reasonably for around €25 - and wine sourced from across France starts at €3 a glass. The interior, with exposed brick, is cosy, and in summer chirpy locals invade the shaded terrace.