Paris is known for its nightlife and chances are that even when you have spent a full day of visiting museums and galleries, walking the streets, eating, shopping and exploring, after a short rest you will still want to go out and see that the city has to offer. If you are like me that may just mean finding a nearby cafe to have a glass or two of wine and decide where to go for dinner. A small bistro may have you conversing with your neighbors at the next table until it is time to go home or visit a nearby bar or jazz club or even a famous cabaret or two.
You can find plenty of suggestions in the large number of guidebooks and the culture and entertainment magazines and brochures which will most likely be in the lobby of your hotel. But for those of you who don’t want to make too many decisions, and just want to be told what to do here are some ideas based on what I have done in the past and some ideas which I got from doing what any normal person who visits Paris would do, which is reading a guidebook or two.
But keep in mind that Paris is one of those places that you can walk around and see amazing buildings and statues lit up dramatically so if you are of college age, before you get too wasted in one of the many bars or clubs take a walk around the city after dark.
Probably by evening after a day of exploring the wonders of Paris you will have passed several cafes that looked interesting and are right around your hotel. A cafe with a decent view of the street, and a few young people who look like they could be students, is not bad place to begin your night with a glass of wine or two.
You have probably read elsewhere in these pages that the Cafe Mairie is one of my favorite places to hang out and strangely enough when I told this to my friend and fellow Sifnos musician Simon Wroe he told me that this is where he spent much of his time several decades earlier. Later I found that this little cafe had historical significance during the student strikes of May 1968.
It is an unpretentious place with interesting people and it is also where Rue de Canettesmeets the Place St Sulpice which is loaded with restaurants, bars, Jazz clubs and even a micro-brewery. You can find this area easily by going up Rue du Four from where it intersects with Blvd St Germain at the Mabillon metro station. Or you can take the #4 metro and get off there or at St Sulpice. But probably you will want to go to the Cafe de Flor and the Brassierie Lipp or Deux Magots on Blvd St Germain for a drink, despite the fact that they are more expensive because after all, how could you not hang out in the places where Hemingway and Sartre spent much of their time? It’s OK. Just because every American tourist in the world goes to these three places, that does not mean it is not a cool thing to do.
Another better choice is the funky and faded elegance of the Cafe Panis, right down from Shakespeare and Company and across from the Cathedral of Notre Dame which is more reasonably priced and has also been a favorite of writers, poets and artists of the past.
The whole area between Blvd Saint Germain and the river is full of bars, cafes, small clubs and restaurants including an Irish pub on Rue St Andre des Arts and a Canadian Bar right on the river which if you happen to be in Paris over Thanksgiving serves a Turkey dinner and shows American Football. If you want to speak to people in English these X-pat style bars are good choices and coming here in the off-season you will actually find that many of these people from Ireland and the UK actually live here. In the summer finding someone who is not a tourist may be difficult. Crossing Blvd St Michel the nightlife continues and the restaurants and fast-food joints proliferate.
The area across the street from the statue of St Michel is a sort of open air stage for break dancers and street performers right in front of Espace St Michel art cinema which shows rare films that you may not see unless you live in a college town. There are the Greek restaurants with live music that I was not permitted to go in and on Rue de Huchette the famous jazz bar Le Caveau de la Huchette with live music every night in a club that has seen some of the world’s most famous jazz musicians in its long history.
Which brings us to the subject of Jazz clubs. Paris as you probably know, was importing jazz musicians from the USA back in the day when most Americans had never heard of it and many who had thought it was the music of the devil. Jazz greats like Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Sidney Bechet, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Clarke, Don Byas, Bill Coleman, and Lucky Thompson brought their music from the USA to the clubs of Paris where they found appreciative audiences and jammed with musicians from Europe like Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
All over the city are bars that feature live jazz and a number of large clubs where you may actually hear someone whose music you know. Le Petit Journal Montparnesse at 13 Rue du Commandant-Mouchotte next to the Gare Montparnasse features live big band, salsa, blues and rock music while its sister-club the Le Petit Journal St Michel at 71 Blvd St Michel focuses mainly on New Orleans Jazz. Jazz Club Lionel Hampton at Méridien Hotel, 81 bd. Gouvion-St-Cyr, northwest of the Arch de Triumphe and the Champs-Elysées is an institution and features performances by some of the best artists and groups in contemporary jazz.
La Cave du Franc Pinot at 1 Quai de Bourbon on the Ile St louis is one of the most amospheric jazz clubs in Paris and a must if you like bebop and swing, serves bistro food and has lunchtime concerts on Sunday. 7 Lézards at 10 rue des Rosiers in the Marais is a jazz-club restaurant in a very old building and features young and promising musicians as well as established names.
The Paris-Prague Jazz Club on 18 rue Bonaparte, in an ancient stone cellar near Saint Germain des Pres Church has low prices for its student-age clientele and features modern and traditional jazz, blues, western swing and zydéco. Autour De Midi at 11 rue Lepic is an intimate “jazz cave” in Montmartre with a traditional French restaurant upstairs and cozy jazz club downstairs. Le Slow Club at 130 rue de Rivoli in Les Halles is a basement club which unlike most jazz clubs actually encourages dancing.
To get more information, head over to parisguide.com