For the French, drinking and eating go together like wine and cheese, and the line between a cafe, salon de thé (tearoom), bistro, brasserie, bar and even bar à vins (wine bar) is blurred. The line between drinking and clubbing is often nonexistent – a cafe that’s quiet mid-afternoon might have DJ sets in the evening and dancing later on.
For most Parisians living in tiny flats, cafes and bars have traditionally served as the salon they don't have – a place where they can meet with friends over un verre (glass of wine), read for hours over a café au lait, debate politics while downing an espresso at a zinc counter, swill cocktails during apéro (aperitif; predinner drink) or get the party started aboard a floating club on the Seine.
Coffee & Tea
Coffee has always been Parisians’ drink of choice to kick-start the day. So it's surprising, particularly given France's fixation on quality, that Parisian coffee long lagged behind world standards, with burnt, poor-quality beans and unrefined preparation methods. Recently, however, Paris' coffee revolution has seen local roasteries like Belleville Brûlerie and Coutume priming cafes citywide for outstanding brews made by professional baristas, often using cutting-edge extraction techniques. Caffeine fiends are now spoilt for choice and while there's still plenty of substandard coffee in Paris, you don't have to go far to avoid it.
Surprisingly, too, tea – more strongly associated with France’s northwestern neighbours the UK and Ireland – is extremely popular in Paris. Tearooms offer copious varieties; learn about its history at the tea museum within the original Marais branch of Mariage Frères.
Wine is easily the most popular beverage in Paris and house wine can cost less than bottled water. Of France’s dozens of wine-producing regions, the principal ones are Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône and the Loire valleys, Champagne, Languedoc, Provence and Alsace. Wines are generally named after the location of the vineyard rather than the grape varietal. The best wines are Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC; currently being relabelled Appellation d'Origine Protégée, AOP), meaning they meet stringent regulations governing where, how and under what conditions they’re grown, fermented and bottled.
Les vins naturels (natural wines) have a fuzzy definition – no one really agrees on the details, but the general idea is that they are produced from organically grown grapes using few or no pesticides or additives. This means natural wines do not contain sulphites, which are added as a preservative in most wines. The good news is that this gives natural wines a much more distinct personality (or terroir, as the French say); the bad news is that these wines can also be more unpredictable. For more specifics, see the website www.morethanorganic.com.
Beer hasn't traditionally had a high profile in France and mass-produced varieties such as Kronenbourg 1664 (5.5%), brewed in Strasbourg, dominate. Paris' growing bière artisanale (craft beer) scene, however, is going from strength to strength, with an increasing number of city breweries, such as Brasserie BapBap and Brasserie la Goutte d'Or, microbreweries and cafes offering limited-production brews on tap and by the bottle. The city's artisan-beer festival, Paris Beer Week, takes place in brasseries, bars and specialist beer shops, usually in early June. An excellent resource for hopheads is www.hoppyparis.com.
Paris' resurgent cocktail scene spans glitzy hotel bars and neobistros, super-cool backstreet speakeasies and former hostess bars in the hip SoPi ('south Pigalle') neighbourhood. Sample forgotten French liqueurs, fresh fruit, and homemade infusions and syrups at the best of the bunch. Aficionados won't want to miss Paris Cocktail Week, held the last week of January.
Paris’ residential make-up means nightclubs aren’t ubiquitous. Lacking a mainstream scene, clubbing here tends to be underground and extremely mobile. The best DJs and their followings have short stints in a certain venue before moving on, and the scene’s hippest soirées clubbing (clubbing events) float between venues – including the many dance-driven bars. In 2017 floating club Concrete became France's first to have a 24-hour licence. Dedicated clubbers may also want to check out the growing suburban scene – much more alternative and spontaneous in nature but also harder to reach.
Wherever you wind up, the beat is strong. Electronic music is of a particularly high quality in Paris’ clubs, with some excellent local house and techno. Funk and groove are also popular, and the Latin scene is huge; salsa-dancing and Latino-music nights pack out plenty of clubs. World music also has a following in Paris, where everything goes at clubs. R&B and hip-hop pickings are decent, if not extensive.
Before, l'after & after d’afters
Seasoned Parisian clubbers, who tend to have a finely tuned sense of the absurd, split their night into three parts. First, la before – drinks in a bar that has a DJ playing. Second, they head to a club for la soirée, which rarely kicks off before 1am or 2am. When the party continues (or begins) at around 5am and goes until midday, it’s l’after. Invariably, though, given the lack of any clear-cut distinction between Parisian bars and clubs, the before and after can easily blend into one without any real ‘during’. After d’afters, meanwhile, kicks off in bars and clubs on Sunday afternoons and evenings, with a mix of strung-out hardcore clubbers pressing on amid those looking for a party that doesn’t take place in the middle of the night.
Track tomorrow’s hot ’n’ happening soirée with these finger-on-the-pulse Parisian-nightlife links:
- Paris DJs (www.parisdjs.com) Free downloads to get you in the groove.
- Paris Bouge (www.parisbouge.com) Comprehensive listings site.
- Sortir à Paris (www.sortiraparis.com) Click on 'Soirées & Bars', then 'Nuits Parisiennes'.
- Tribu de Nuit (www.tribudenuit.com) Parties, club events and concerts galore.
Plug into the indie clubbing scene with the following informal venues and collectives, which organise parties in the northern suburbs.
- Otto 10 (www.facebook.com/otto10events)
- 75021 (www.facebook.com/75021Paris)
- Le 6B (www.le6b.fr)
Need to Know
Drinking in Paris essentially means paying the rent for the space you take up. So it costs more to sit at a table than to stand at the counter, more for coveted terrace seats, more on a fancy square than a backstreet, more in the 8e than the 18e.
An espresso starts at around €2, a glass of wine from €3.50, a cocktail €9 to €16 and a demi (half-pint) of beer €3.50 to €7. In clubs and chic bars, prices can be double. Admission to clubs is free to around €20 and is often cheaper before 1am.
Most mainstream bars and international-styled pubs have a ‘happy hour’ – called just that (no French translation) – which ushers in reduced-price drinks for a good two or three hours, usually between around 5pm and 8pm.
Closing time for cafes and bars tends to be 2am, though some have licences until dawn. Club hours vary depending on the venue, day and event.
- Some wine bars offer free corkage; otherwise it typically costs around €4.50 to €7.
- Although most places serve at least small plates (often full menus), it’s normally fine to order a coffee or alcohol if you’re not dining.
- The French rarely go drunk-wild and tend to frown upon it.
- Un café Single shot of espresso.
- Un café allongé Espresso lengthened with hot water (sometimes served separately).
- Un café au lait Coffee with milk.
- Un café crème Shot of espresso lengthened with steamed milk.
- Un double Double shot of espresso.
- Une noisette Shot of espresso with a spot of milk.