To be Parisian, you must have a local—your go-to for dining out, an aperitif before dinner, or a quick cup of coffee. And to be super duper Parisian, your local should be less than fabulous. It shouldn’t be a blazingly shiny brasserie or reupholstered retro bistro. The waitress shouldn’t be sexy. Those places are for tourists!
My local is the Café Mont Cenis, which isn’t much to look at, with its sort of ringard typeface sign and blah interior. (Granted, it has a cool old bar.) The appeal is in the food—traditionally French, amazingly good, unbelievably well priced, and copiously heaped on your plate. And then there are the owners, Coco and Kiki, who I think are of North African descent. No matter how busy the place is, they always stop to air-kiss me when I arrive. If I don’t finish what’s on my plate (kinda hard, given the portions), I get the third degree and an “Imma slap you” gesture from across the room.
Café Mont Cenis is not romantically old school as Chez Francis La Butte, which sits kitty-corner from it, or as cliché-perfect as Café Francoeur, across the street (which neighbors and I are boycotting because they gave an 86-year-old friend a hard time last year for wanting to pay with a check). But seated at Cafe Mont Cenis, diners can gaze at those more glamorous places—as well as up a majestic staircase that leads to Sacre Coeur.
I’m so attached to my local that whenever I leave Paris to go back to the US, I stop in for my last coffee en route to the airport. One such time I was so sad to be leaving Montmartre that I was boo-hooing over my noisette. When I signaled to Coco that I wanted to settle up, he looked completely insulted—How dare I try to pay?