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An alternative guide to Paris

An alternative guide to Paris

By: Ellen McQueen

You visit Paris because all the world has fallen in love with its iconography of romance and beauty. You move to Paris because you’ve fallen in love with its romanticised version of all your favourite vices; art, sex, alcohol, philosophy… comme tu veux.


Shakespeare and Co. @ 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005

The original Shakespeare and Co., the haunting ground of my long-dead entourage Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, etc. was owned by Sylvia Beach and located at 12 Rue de l’Odéon. Today’s S&C continues the ex-pat tradition, originally luring guests such as Ginsberg, Burroughs and Baldwin and still playing host to contemporary writers, exchanging lodging for work. Check out an event nearly every Tuesday and Thursday of the month with fellow lovers of literature. Listen as authors read from freshly published novels surrounded by the philosophies and emotions of thousands of thinkers. Afterwards enjoy a free glass of wine and sit upstairs with your favourite translation, or work of poetry, or book of essays. Paris’ very own time travel contraption.

Galleries of the Marais @ 21 Place des Vosges, 75003

You must, of course, get your art fix while in Paris. We all love the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Pompidou. Le Grande Palais, l’Orangerie, and quai Branly. But the Marais is home to hundreds of galleries ranging from contemporary art to street art to furniture antiques. Run into Vincent Van Gogh or Robert Montgomery or a completely unknown K-Pop photographer from Seoul. Go on a Thursday night, when inevitably someone is having an opening. Enjoy a glass of wine, find the artist, drag her to the next gallery. Practice your French with an unassuming art critic. Pretend you’re a buyer. Leave a little, a lot, drunk on art and wine.      

Bar Hemingway @ Hôtel Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, 75001

While Ernest Hemingway’s famed intoxication has won his name bars all over the world, only one can boast the author’s determination to liberate it from its Nazi occupiers. The Ritz Paris is another famed haunting ground of the 20s crowd, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Porter, etc. It is not, though, a welcoming menu for a starving writer. Walk in anyway and sit determinedly in an empty seat at the bar.  Allow the American bleach-blonde tourist next to you to recommend the €150 cocktail while she tells you how delicious the food at Le Jules Vernes was last night. Nod politely, knowing your dinner on the balcony under a canopy of pollution-hidden stars with the boy you love watching the Eiffel Tower from afar was worlds better than hers. Wish you were sharing a whiskey and cigarette with the dark cove’s namesake. 

Musée de la Vie Romantique @ 16 Rue Chaptal, 75009

A tribute to the romantic period, a lovely courtyard for an apéro, an early 19th century artist’s retreat to admire and envy. The permanent collection located in the house is dedicated mostly to French female novelist George Sand and admission is free of charge. The temporary exhibits require a ticket, but are usually more than worth it, for example the recent exposition L’œil de Baudelaire. Then if you’re lucky and the day is warm and the sun is permeating the cosy green garden, you can sit with a glass of wine and a notebook in the courtyard and write a little romantic prose yourself. Extra points if written in French.

Chez Casimir brunch @ 6 Rue de Belzunce, 75010

My Sunday routine. Arrive at Chez Casimir, weather-permitting by scooter driven by boyfriend, park alongside the Paroisse Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Descend to the cave. Find a bottle of cidre or two. From there to the buffet, a two-layered round table creaking under the weight of what happens to be your favourite food: Mont d’Or cheese, lentils, boulots, quinoa, potato salad, mozzarella salad, green salad, green beans, beets, boudin (revolting in my opinion, but my très Parisian boyfriend is a bit obsessed), carrots, melon, radishes, guacamole, charcuterie, sauces and new additions every week. And then find a table on the terrace and sit for the actual appetiser, a deliciously warm fish or vegetable soup. Followed by an omelette. Followed by a main dish: beef or mussels or poulet. I make it through about four plates of quinoa and a cup of soup before breaking for the dessert buffet. Chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, chocolate cookies. Strawberry pie, Strawberry pudding, strawberries. Madeleines, carrot cake, fruit salad. I arrive home every Sunday afternoon roughly two kilos heavier.

Grande Mosquée de Paris @ 2 Place du Puits de l’Ermite, 75005

Escape Paris for a second. Enjoy a relaxing cup of mint tea in the spiritual and calming environment of the Great Mosque. Find peace by strolling through its colourful garden or admiring the Arabic hues and architecture. Treat yourself to authentic pastries and perhaps even a hammam. Feel a little startled as you return to the streets of the 5th arrondissement and not the desert dunes of Morocco.  

Georges @ Le Centre Pompidou, 75000

Find a view. Find a sunset. Find them at Georges. Visit the museum, sure, and then have a drink overlooking Sacré-Cœur, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. Overlooking the whole city, sun sinking, drink in hand, go for smoke in hand, try to point out all the places haunted by your emotional ghosts or just the monuments we’re all supposed to recognise. If you can afford it have dinner. If not splurge for a cocktail and watch, take a drag of your cigarette and pretend to be part of other times, other generations, as the sun sinks and the buildings flicker and glitter into the city of lights. Recall how you got to this moment and breathe and be a cliché in the city of clichés. 

Optimystic Movement @ meetup.com/OptimysticMovement

Detox. Paris has a sneaky little habit of dragging you into the coffee, croissant, cheese, wine, and cigarette spiral that after three days dramatically deteriorates your mind and body, but the city is also catching up with the yoga fad. Skip lunch for a yoga or dance class with movement instructor and general inspiration-guru Meghan Sullivan. Get your ass kicked into shape at Hip Hop Ballet Barre or re-centre your mind in a workshop-style yoga class. It’s in English. It’s absolutely the best way to prepare for a dinner of vermouth and soupe à l’oignon and coq au vin. And Pouilly-Fumé and fromage and crème brûlée. Smoking cigarettes throughout the meal. Concluding with a cognac. Or two.