May Day!

May 1st, 2016

May 1st is both the Fete du Travail (Labor Day) and the Fete du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). The latter is a spring celebration dating back to the Middle Ages. Flowers were given by men to women they liked as a form of spring courtship. The Labor Day part of the holiday started much later–and was inspired by events in the US. In the late 1800s, Chicago workers rallied for an 8-hour workday. Not long after, French counterparts fought for the same thing. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Despite France’s 35-hour work week and 5 weeks of paid vacation mandated by the state for salaried employees, France recently found that emailing and texting for work during “off” hours is a growing problem. The French may have a rep for being lazy and inefficient (aren’t we all, at times?) but the tough economy means that the shrinking number of people with full-time work need to do the jobs of many people. For every French person I know who has abused unemployment benefits and other hand-outs, I also know someone who is hugely overworked in a job that pays much less than it would in the US. (The need for work is, in part, why you will see people selling those flower bunches after today, even though the government only allows it on May Day itself.)

Alsatian Gastronomy in the Shadow of Sacre Coeur

April 28th, 2016

Antoine Westermann’s Alsatian roots shine in all their glory at his bistro-rotisserie, which gasconades the barnyard (or basse-cour) in a simple yet elegantly Parisian fashion. Located in the quaint rue Lepic, just west of Sacré Coeur, le Coq Rico ostensibly represents his attempt to fly the coop from his Michelin-starred existence at the luxury Paris restaurants. The inspiration for these belles volailles comes from his childhood favorite: roasted chicken. Known for his emphasis on products, Westermann, no spring chicken himself, has Thierry Lébé taking on the birds and Adrien Boulouque stocking the wine cellar, showcasing a carte of chicken specialties as well as rabbit and game dishes.

I’ve been an admirer of Westermann ever since a delicious experience at Drouant, one of my favorite Paris restaurants. Appreciative of his quality ingredients and deep respect for seasonality, I must admit that this radical back-to-the-basics approach roused some skepticism. Could my strict German bang-for-the-buck value system justify a 90-euro bird, however high end?

I stepped into the restaurant with an ambivalent heart. The plain but graceful interior harbored about a dozen polished Parisians relishing in the degustation—we’d be the only Anglos making relentless puns on the restaurant’s inopportune name tonight. Two obliging servers welcomed us, and after a considerable wait (didn’t I make reservations?) seated us at a large, communal table mimicking the Alsatian Stammtisch, traditionally reserved for regulars, which we shared with a handful of other chatty patrons.

Our waitress, whose attitude remained belittling in that French sort of way, promptly delivered our rillettes de canard served with rustic country bread—an impeccable if simple start. A forewarned 40 minutes later (excellence takes time), our poulette for four and sides of rice embellished with fried foie gras, oyster mushrooms and peas appeared. Roasted to perfection—white meat equally juicy as dark—it really was a beautiful bird! The perfectly bronzed skin exuding a few fatty beads was crispy and flavorful. The fried liver dotting the rice provided some earthiness, while the oyster mushrooms added a subtle, sweet pleasure tied together by fresh peas.

98, rue Lepic, 75018. tel: 01 42 59 82 89. Open daily, noon–2 p.m. and 7 p.m.–midnight.

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It’s Back! Les Bain Douches Nightclub

April 21st, 2016

bains douches paris 80sNew York City had Studio 54, and Paris had its own era-defining, decadent club, Les Bains Douches. The location that served as Paris’ first public baths, in 1885, and counted Marcel Proust among its regulars, was converted into a nightclub in 1978. The pool remained from the former bathhouse and over the next two decades an impressive roster of regulars came by to dip in their toes – or in many cases, dive right in. Iggy Pop, David Bowie, a young Kate Moss & Johnny Depp, Mick Jagger and countless supermodels passed through. “Les Bains” helped launched the career of Philippe Stark, who designed the space, and David Guetta, resident D.J., both relatively unknown at the time.

les bains douches 2016But nothing lasts forever. In 2010, Les Bains Douches was forced to close due to its dilapidated state. In 2015 it began its third act as a multipurpose venue with a hotel, restaurant, boutique, club and upscale bar, all under the shortened name Les Bains.

bain douches parisDownstairs, the club retains its edgy-yet-elegant ambience…for those who make it past the doorman. Here, bottles of champagne are de rigueur and the cocktail menu is relatively simple with just a few mixed drinks. However, those who don’t want to stay up past midnight or deal with door policies can enjoy a selection of craft cocktails at the main floor bar. There are also two terraces off either side of the bar. The bar clientele is more sophisticated and subdued than the club-going crowd, but this mix-it-up philosophy is classic les Bains, whose guests have always been lowbrow to highbrow, grit to glamour, newbie to big names.

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Seventh Heaven

April 16th, 2016

The 7th, the roof terrace bar of the 4-star Terrass Hotel in Montmartre, is a bar with a view. But not just any old view: the 7th floor vantage point that lends its name to the bar offers a spectacular view of Paris, with the Tour de Montparnasse, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, lined up perfectly from left to right along the horizon.

The open-air setting is open from early April to the end of September, weather permitting, with white parasols to protect you from the sun and the breeze of being up high to cool you down on a hot summer day – and with a reasonably priced drinks menu offering cocktails, soft drinks and wine as refreshment. Despite being just minutes away from the grey urbanity of the Place de Clichy, up here in the clouds at the 7th there is an overall atmosphere of being on holiday away from the city. This is perhaps due to the riviera vibe brought about by decor of comfortable yet luxurious garden furniture usually seen in swanky beach resorts, accented with ostentatious touches such as bottles of Dom Perignon displayed on pedestals, and the shiny and bright fake grass that carpets the ground. But the eurotrash undertones fade into the background when you’re faced with such a spectacular view of Paris with a glass of chilled wine in hand. The main obstacle to enjoying the terrace this summer has been the awful weather – but if there are any more nice sunny days before the end of the season, we recommend checking this place out for the view alone.

12-14 rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018

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Hipsters Take to Petanque

April 13th, 2016

petanque_arena04Whether you call it pétanque or boules, the traditional French game with the shiny silvery balls has made a comeback. It used to be the only people you’d see playing in were old men in berets sipping pastis. Now everyone plays, particularly Parisian hipsters (les Bobos) who don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat.

In the mood to try your hand? You can learn the rules of pétanque here, and find a great list of places to play here, but what about les boules? You can either buy inexpensive sets of balls at sporting goods store like Decathlon or from pro shops like Obut. You’ll probably see another game with little wooden pins, almost like bowling. That Jeu de Quilles, a Finnish game that has become more popular around Paris, possibly because the equipment is lighter and less expensive, and little kids can play. Not sure where they rate on the cool-o-meter, though. Stick with boules unless you’re devoid of hipster aspirations or immune to subtle Parisian mocking.

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Frogs Love This Dog

April 10th, 2016

The French bulldog is descended from an Asian “mastiff” type of dog, that have a flattened muzzle and a strong jaw, but the race was really developed from the British bulldog.  Mixed with the bulldog brought over to French by British workers around 1850, and bred with the terrier dogs or the “doguin” dogs that the butchers would have around their shops to keep the rodents away, it was reduced in size. During the siege of 1870, bulldogs were used to kill rats, with one clamp of their jaw, so that people could bring them home and cook them. The city of Paris was starving and even the animals in the zoos were not spared. But the bulldogs proved they had a function, so lucky them. The artist Toulouse-Lautrec loved these little dogs, and many other celebrities and personalities of history also helped make them a popular pet, such as Josephine Baker, Mistinguett, Colette et Yves Saint Laurent. A kennel club was formed as early as 1898 for the breeding and promotion of the particular race. Poupoudou (pronounced Poopoodoo) has become a star of the Flickr-sphere… and it’s not hard to see why… he embodies the adorableness and the spirit of the Frenchie which is irresistable and beyond cute!

Photos by K. Pujol

Brass Knuckles for Paris

April 9th, 2016

brass-knuckles
Artist Jessie Kanelos Weiner on one of her watercolor works:

Paris was brokenhearted after the November attacks. I had this visual in my head the dark days that followed, but I was worried the idea of brass knuckles was treating violence with violence. But finally, I shared it and was swept away by the response. I forget how powerful the creation of timely images can be, especially during times of crisis.

The American watercolor illustrator’s biggest project to date is Edible Paradise: a Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. See images from it here.

The Most Elegant Hardware Store

April 7th, 2016

BHV 3There used to be a few more grands magasins (major department stores) in Paris than there are now. When I first visited long ago, there was even still the Trois Quartiers, a store by Madeleine. It has been through many metamorphoses since then but has never seemed to be commercially successful. There was also the beautiful (from the outside) Samaritaine, which closed 10 years ago for extensive work that everyone understood the need for; the place was a firetrap with its narrow wooden escalators and crowded floors. At the time, the management said it would rehire everyone after the renovation, but no one believed them. In the end, they fired everyone after paying severance, and the Samaritaine is now supposed to be turning into a much more profitable office and apartment building. We Parisians miss the old place because it was on the Seine, with public access; the rooftop restaurant of the Samaritaine had one of the best views in the city.

bhv 5Now there are still the four stalwarts, Galeries Lafayette (one of the two or three biggest department stores in Europe), Printemps, the Bon Marché (in spite of its name, which means “cheap,” it’s one of the more upper-crust ones, not as frequented by tourists and in the heart of the most expensive Paris real estate), and the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, or BHV, pronounced Bay Ahsh Vay. It’s across the street from the Hôtel de Ville–which is the Paris City Hall, not a hotel, as some tourists find out every day!

bhv2BHV is especially famous for its quincaillerie or hardware section. That may not sound fun to you, but that’s because you haven’t been there. When you wander the halls of its fabulous bazaar of brass numbers, hooks, door-fittings and keys, its gardening tools, its classical old French enameled signs, its bells and its birdhouses, I promise you will find something you like and haven’t seen before. This is the place Parisians go for hardware if they can’t find it in their local neighborhood shop.

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Care for a Deer Heart Salad?

April 6th, 2016

yard 1 yard 2I went to Yard with a friend who told me the chef Nye Smith was famous for his offal at St John’s in London, so I wasn’t surprised to see game and fish on the menu (pigeon, deer heart salad, rabbit, and whole dorade cooked in salt). The gnocchi starter in a doe ragout was so good I considered ordering it again as a main dish. For a former industrial space near Père Lachaise, it’s surprisingly small, seating maybe 20-25 people. With an open kitchen, it quickly gets very noisy. I look forward to trying out the Back Yard (tapas and wine bar next door, with an outdoor terrace) when the weather improves. If you go, be sure to reserve in advance.

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The Casino Scene in France

April 5th, 2016

casino de parisWe often think of cities outside the French capital as the places to find casinos. The classic French film Bob Le Flambeur focuses on a glamorous casino in Deauville, north of Paris, while Jacques Demu’s 1963 film La Baie des Angels (Bay of Angels) takes place in Nice. So notable are the French Riviera casinos that they appear in many a James Bond film. The Cote d’Azur is as famous for its glamorous casinos as it is for its topless beaches and the annual Cannes Film Festival.

inside a french casinoBut Paris does in fact have casinos–quite a few of them. They are all, as it happens, on the Right Bank, the part of town that traditonally was the business and governmental center of the city. The Right Bank is where you will find the majority of the large department stores as well as the presidential palace and the Louvre, which was once a royal palace. The Left Bank was, back in the day, considered more academic and bohemian; this is where you will still find the Sorbonne and the heart of the publishing industry. Today, of coourse, there’s a bit of everything on both banks.

casino in monte carloNorth of the Louvre and skirting the streets close to the Seine are the 3rd, 9th and 8th Arrondissments (the city’s administrative districts). This is where all of Paris’ casinos are situated. The Cercle Anglais and the Cercle Haussmann are the two most notable before you get to the Champs-Elysees. The Cercle Haussmann has the most poker tables of any Paris casino, but don’t look for Las Vegas-style slot machines here. They are nowhere to be seen!

It’s natural to find casinos all over France. After all, this is the national that gave us roulette and baccarat. (You always knew those names sounded French!). Blackjack, roulette, poker and baccarat are all favorite games at French casinos.

craps-chipsFurther along the river and more toward the commercial centre of Paris is the Aviation Club de France, a members-only club playing host to some of the world’s best poker players. It is located near the Arc de Triomphe.

For game-lovers who may not be in Paris, or in France, for that matter, there’s a way to access that casino ambiance without leaving the comfort of your home. www.casinofrancaisenligne.fr is a gaming site in French, and it offers all the games that players know and love.