1.2 The Blue Notes – Le Cinquante

December 15th

Le Cinquante—h0030

Down Rue de Lancry we walk. A car passes. People hover outside of a bar. People always hover outside of this bar. We enter. Foggy. Cramped. Everyone’s dressed in black. Bunch of late to the party beatniks, Hip boys and girls, probably design majors, who now work at bars and coffee shops in newly gentrified neighbourhoods. I love it.

The bartender is a woman who doesn’t wear makeup, and she dresses in faded button down shirts like she’s in a rock band. 3 Caipis—the special—they’re terrible—but they’re strong af. 

 The whole neighbourhood is here. People bump every goddamn time they pass. I’m starting to feel it, feel the Caipi

I look to my girlfriend. She smiles back. 

My friend returns from the bathroom. 

We chat a bit more; about what? I can’t say.

We order another Caipi and two beers. My friend wants to smoke a cigarette. Two extremely large men with hoop earrings and black beanies look like they’d have some. 

“Want me to ask?”

“No thanks. My parents.”

He comments on my girlfriend’s coat, says it must weigh 20 pounds. Definitely doesn’t help the claustrophobia. It’s big, it’s green and it’s plushy. 

A man drunkenly bumps her. Her drink spills onto the coat. ‘Putain!’ she yells, wanting him to notice.

The guy looks over, blasé—casualties of war

My friend steps in—he speaks in English to the culprit.

The culprit doesn’t like that. They begin arguing in a comedic way. ‘We saved your asses in WW2. If it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German.’ ‘Il n’a pas de nuance.’ The insults fall flat. Neither can understand the other. Therefore, it’s a draw. 

The man buys us shots of brown liquid. As a sorry. We Shoot. Low-grade Whiskey, disgusting and unnecessary. 

We call it a night. Buzzed.

A terrible taste lingers.

Fin

1.1 The Blue Notes – La Patache

December 14th
La Patache—h2200

Across Canal Saint Martin we traverse. A bar by the water. La Patache. My friend, I see him through the front windows.

“A table for three.”
“Seat yourselves.”

I look around, disoriented from the cold. Great vibes. Bubbling. My girlfriend spots a table in the back. We sit.

2 Camden IPAs and a glass of red.

I’m here, thought I saw you, but now I don’t. A message displays on my phone. It’s from him. My friend. Sounds morbid. Or romantic even.

I laugh and show him.

Polite talk. Small talk. As the glass empties, the depth increases. I ask about people back home. All good, he says.
It’s always; ‘All good,’ or ‘Nothing much.’ Our friends and family are ageing and our cities are becoming unrecognisable. It’s true. While Seattle’s skyline grows higher, New York’s roots of gentrification stretch outward. Paris’s new ‘à la mode’ neighbourhood, in contrast, seems like something of a dart toss.

He asks about the situation in France. Pretty f***ed, we say. Stay away from Etoile tomorrow, I tell him.

2 Jupiler’s and 1 Camden IPA. The server makes a joke in French. My girlfriend laughs. I didn’t get it. They look at me, waiting for a response. ‘He’s really gotten better at French though,’ she says.

Means a lot . (*Love you*)

The adjacent table has finished their charcuterie plate.

Talk turns to heavier issues. My friend’s divorce. My friend’s life before his year around the world. He’s very open about it. He wonders why we’re not married yet. Many ask. Yet, I’ve never asked myself.

Talk shifts to his travels. Says it’s been great. Great times. He has photos. And he really liked Portugal, though his phone was stolen in Lisbon.

After that, I can’t remember. We finish our drinks. We pack up. We leave.

A cat sits, perched on a shelf, overlooking the bar. My friend and I step out. My girlfriend stays. She pets the cat. Outside he tells me how much he loves being single. How much he’s loved traveling while being single.

Paris, living in Paris is pretty cool still.

It’s the golden age for being single, my roommate in New York once told me. Now, he’s in a relationship.

An Outsider’s Guide to Belleville: the Secret Panorama of Paris

December 2018
There’s a reason that Parisians stay hush-hush about the panorama at the top of Belleville Parc. ‘Go to Montmartre,’ they’ll say.


Setting.

Red, neon words ‘Le President’ hang over the riffraff like a heavyweight championship belt. Beneath, Chinese Hanji are spangled in gold. Enter the chaotic intersection of Belleville station.

It’s a little less French, and a little more foreign than Paris’ center. Chinatown Deux, some call it, but Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic and, French can be heard in passing.

Headlights, truck horns, and construction mute the distinctions. Exhaust billows. Chinese markets, Noodle houses, and Bazaars occupy shops. TripAdvisor, Yelp, and LonelyPlanet stickers occupy shop windows. 

The Metro station feels urban, in contrast to other parts of Paris, and therefore much more grounded and visceral.

Hidden, only steps away, this area has the iconic, whirling streets of Paris. These picturesque inlets are full of gastropubs, cocktail bars, and murals that signal, gentrification has already passed through. 

The truth is that Belleville has always been home to an expansive artistic legacy. The ascension of Edith Piaf only embellishes its significance. 

Belleville has developed into one of the more complex neighborhoods of Paris. It’s not normally a box on a traveler’s to-do list. But it should be.

To the East, a steep incline leads to park Belleville and a panorama of the city. Place Republique is to the west; Pere Lachaise is to the South, and Buttes Chaumont and Basin de la Villette are to the North.


Haunts. 

Three distinct areas supply the Belle-villainous night-life with entertainment; Rue Sainte Marthe, South on Boulevard de Belleville, and uphill on Avenue de Belleville. Each area has their pillar, a city renowned cocktail bar.

A hibiscus-infused gin cocktail, house-made, alongside a small plate of Terrine and Cornichons–that’s Combat. The highly reputed bar, hatched by three graduates of the venerable Experimental Cocktail Club, has gained respect throughout Europe for their craft and ingenuity.

With a large group? Stop at La Commune, another magnet of Belleville. Greenhouse, tropicals vibes at this joint. The punch bowls, from the creators of Le Syndicat, leave you tipsy without much pain in your pocket.

The vivid Rue Sainte Marthe holds enough places for a weekend on its own. You can stop at Le Renard, the second opening from Les Animaux group. 8 Euro cocktails after 9pm…not a typo.

Next Door, Le Gallopin, serves up top-notch French Cuisine, from a Top Chef winner. Across the courtyard, Cave à Michel, opened by the same top chef champ, serves casual fare.

With ordinary facades on the outside, but wild crowds on weekends, Le 9b and Le Hasbeen are the best dives for locals. The former has a great alternative vibe, with an intimate, downstairs venue for electro DJs. The latter has a ridiculous price on beer (under 5 Euro).


View.

Along with Chinatown Deux, artist galleries and squats (which I may or may not write about in the future), Belleville also hosts one of the stunning panoramas of Paris. 

It rivals Montmartre.

Except you don’t have to elbow other tourists for a picture. Or get pestered by street salesmen while you’re trying to scale a massive staircase.

The park itself is stunning as well, and in the summer, there’s a large waterfall.

You can find Parc Belleville after a brief hike up Rue de Belleville, or a walk from the Metro Stop: Pyrenees. 

Cordially,

A.

Portrait Mode: Gravity Bar in Jacques Bonsergent

The Up-Close Look at Gravity Bar on December 1st, 2018

A Tour De Force, Gravity Bar stationed itself on Rue de Villetes and began its slow ascent to stardom with quirky whiskey cocktails, and one sacrilegious hummus.



Curved, wooden slats on the ceiling start above my head and cascade behind the barman. Bright, yellow tones glow throughout the bar. It’s well-lit, and well-catered tonight with Gangstarr and Joeystarr from the French rap group NTM shuffling in the background. Loud, but not imposing. Everything flows, the food and drinks fill the gaps of our conversation like smooth sand running through your fingers. 

The cocktails are hit and miss, but when they hit, they impact.

-Alexander Cohiba

A portly server with a skater cap takes our drink order. The Captain says ‘everything but the name’ of his first drink is a wee bit boring. A wee bit brash of him, but the bar retaliates with a whiskey-coffee-cinnamon based drink that really does a number on us. I order a whiskey-apricot drink, which I can co-sign as well. The aforementioned hummus is irreplaceable and should remain like an anchor, placed at the middle of each table. My crew lit up the sashimi as well. The bill ends up being well over 100 Euros, so–parse out your visits.

The crowd rotates between well-informed tourists, locals, and Parisians who enjoy a good cocktail. The atmosphere isn’t pretentious at first glance, however, they can’t take a critique, and that’s a vivid signal of an ego. I’m wary of what stardom does to an ego, but never forget your origins. Never forget the people who wandered into the bar without provocation and left with a smile and a ‘damn that’s some excellent hummus.’

With love,

A.

Landscape Mode: Subversive Tiki Cocktails and the Unknown Territory of Solera

Solera, a luxurious den with a ragtag group of loyal, high-end patrons, thrives on its own genre of gimmicky, tiki cocktails. 

On a pallid, mid-autumn night, I took a brisk walk down a large, dark boulevard past the dome-roofed Observatory tower of Denfert-Rochereau. Trees swayed, and animated the streets, even if I was near alone. Scooters zip by.

Crossing from the 14th arrondissement to the far edge of the 5th, one doesn’t notice much difference in the surroundings. Lamplit stone buildings and black windows fill your periphery.

Halfway down an ordinary street, overheads illuminate an entrance adorned by Stan Smith-ed Parisians.

Emerald green with gold accents–a rich, jungle theme permeates throughout the atmosphere of the bar. Plants fill the corners of the room. Prism-shaped lanterns dangle from the ceiling.  

The layout is simple. A backroom, intimate in spacing, has plushy pillows and sofas. An open front room with raised tables hosts small groups. In the corner, there’s a small DJ setup, and next to the entrance, a lavish bar. 

‘Outstanding’ is how an amateur to cocktails might label their drinks; ‘gimmicky’ is the label of a cynic. I believe ‘quirky’ is the fairest label, but gimmicky, at times isn’t far off.

Our first two cocktails are served in a hollowed out book and a receptacle resembling a water tower. Surprised, I tinker around with the water tower, realizing that you flip a switch to pour your own drink. 

The drinks are both fruity, and sweet, but a slight tang offsets the sugar.

The scene shifts. People return from outside. They beeline to the backroom and their exclusive party. A small group of friends in bomber jackets stands near the DJ. A couple enters through the doors and waits at the bar. The man has long, shaggy hair, and an expensive looking, cascading black jacket. The woman is much older and elegantly dressed with her hair wrapped tight and thick, ovoid glasses. The relationship seems platonic, or business oriented. An artist and an agent? A musician and a band director?

The next round is served in emptied plastic egg shells and a traditional Japanese tea-kettle. These are also good cocktails, but indistinct, in juxtaposition with the first round. 

Solera’s drinks certainly qualify as Tiki Cocktails… served in funky glassware. The owner clearly has a sense of humor, but the drinks and what the bar represents are no joke. 

While planted in a residential wasteland, this bar has defined its own terrain. Normally, cocktails lie in the 3rd, 10th, 11th, or 18th, and only in the 6th on this side of the river. With its location and its glassware, Solera is subverting expectations on two separate occasions. 

You might speculate about the glassware choice.  They remark that it’s about the pairing of food with cocktails. I have a sneaky suspicion of the culprit: Instagram.

In my days, I’ve come across and traveled to shops that have Instagram allure. Whether it was the very mediocre Rainbow Bagels from the Bagel Store in Williamsburg, or Taiyaki’s fish shaped ice cream cones in China Town, people travel to have this moment of ‘Instagram fascination’ with material goods.  You’re submerged in the state of ephemeral wonder because it truly lasts a moment; you consume it, and then the moments over.

The owners tried to conjure that magic with their glassware.

Maybe..Hold on…I’m skeptical of my own theory. 

Their glassware, while unique, aren’t necessarily photogenic. 

#Ugly in a photo

Subversion is the key element to Solera’s drinks. Familiar shapes, such as eggs, oysters, a hollowed book and a tea kettle, by design, bring a comfort to the drink. When the top is peeled back, and you discover alcohol in the engine, the drink is going to be different than any you’ve had before. 

It plays with your head.

And by the time you’ve pulled together what you think of the drink, you’ve already tried it. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I like it, and any open-minded person would as well.

With Love,

Alexander


Where to Find Peanut Butter and 14 Other American Condiments in Paris

After a difficult day, you need comfort. After a day where you’ve confused Rue Montmartre with Boulevard Montmartre, received the wrong order for lunch because of a mispronounced vowel, and had that typical grey af Parisian day, the only cure, I think, is like Dorothy once said, home. Home is true comfort.

I’ve written before that ‘Living Abroad’ and ‘Homesickness’ are topics I’d like to address sans alcohol, because ego aside, drinking isn’t the antidote to feeling down. Food, however, is another story.

In France, it’s crazy hard to find a lot of the essential products for American snacks. But with luck, it’s possible. My aim with this post is to help any American and really anyone who’s searching for an ingredient in Paris.

Ps. I’d like this to be an open list, so if you have things you’d like me to add, pls comment below!

The Essentials

Cream Cheese —> St. Moret

Supermarkets (Monop’, Franprix, Carrefour City)

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In New York, I had the weekend routine of eating an everything bagel with cream cheese, chili flakes, olive oil and a slice of tomato. Bagels aren’t exactly a French thing, but I thought Cream Cheese would still be great with a fresh, piping hot sesame baguette. France slapped me down, ‘stupid American.’ I couldn’t find cream cheese anywhere, so I thought I’d throw some chèvre on it.

Chèvre is unspreadable. It clumps together in globs of delicious cheese. Not ideal!

Months later, I was at a picnic and someone brought St. Moret and it was revelatory. Aka its France’s superior version of Philadelphia.

You can find it in most major stores in the cheese aisle.

Cheddar —> Mimolette

Supermarkets (Monop, Franprix, Carrefour City)

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This sneaky, sneaky cheese can be found dressed up with this fancy name in most major supermarkets. Mimolette is from the North of France, but tastes like it’s from Wisconsin.

Peanut Butter: Jif Style

Cometeshop or Citadium

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This is a purely American product, meaning there’s no chance you find it in French stores. That being said, if you’re craving some sugary ass PB for a decadent PBJ or waffles or banana pancakes, you’ll have to go to the specialty American dealers.

Peanut Butter: Trader Joe’s Style —Pureé de Cacahuètte

Naturalia

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For the most part, French people don’t like Peanut butter—but a flock of open-minded, granola mf’s have managed to push natural PB to stores like Naturalia and certain Bio sections.

Chilli Flakes — Flocons de Piment

Mark & Spencer

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Thank you, Mark and Spencer, the GB based supermarket for having an alternative selection of spices. Along with curry ingredients, naan, and crumpets, they have my favorite, and most OP spice—chili flakes.

This is the only surefire method, otherwise, select Italian trattoria’s carry them, and Chinese Markets carry whole dried pimentos.

On the Healthy Side

Kale

Biocoop, Bio C Bon (Rare)

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Known as Chou Vert Frisé, (Frizzy green cabbage) Kale is a tough find in Paris.  TJ’s had boatloads of Kale, but I guess they haven’t shipped to this side of the Atlantic.

I’ve found it at Bio C Bon, but only on rare occasion, and at Biocoop as well.

Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar –> Umberti

Bio C’ Bon

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Bio C’ Bon never fails, and although it costs LV prices, Apple Cider Vinegar is the truth.

Scallions

K-Mart or Traiteur Asiatique

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Normally you can find chives at the supermarket, but for stir-fries and omelets, there’s no replacing scallions. K-mart and other Asian markets are sure to have them.

Frozen Fruits for Smoothies

Picard

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Three words—Picard’s got em!

409 Spray—St. Marks

All Supermarkets

You’ve spilled coffee and need cleaning supplies.

Q: Which brand can you trust? 

A: St. Marks is that all-purpose cleaner with a hint of citrus that you’re looking for.

Deep Cuts

Bbq Sauce and Honey Mustard

MyLittleAmerican

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You’re only likely to find one of these bedrocks of American cuisine where you can find the other. My little American market and Cometeshop are your best bets.

Sriracha

Traiteur Asiatique

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Essential for my friends and I back home, but I understand, not everyone has warmed up to the Thai Chili sauce.  For this and the next one, search for Traiteur Asiatique or Traiteur Exotique and head to the nearest one.

Hoi Sin

Traiteur Asiatique

Via Pinterest

This beautiful Vietnamese BBQ sauce can be found with the same method.

Rummo pasta

Monoprix

In terms of pasta, you can do plenty better in France, but if Rummo is your MO like me, Monoprix is the place. For some reason, Carrefour only carries Barilla.

With Love,

Alexander

The Outsider’s Guide to Jacques Bonsergent: More Than Instagrammable Canals

Scene.

Limpid water runs through, halving the quarter, with cafe’s, art galleries and bars on both banks. Bridges loop over Canal Saint Martin. Dangling limbs of deciduous trees and street art span down the length of the promenades. Narrow roads zigzag. Jagged corners cut from old stone buildings, and in between, long shadows, hidden passages that lead to dives, and small tables of Parisians with their feet out. 

This subway stop, named after an immortalized WW1 sergeant, leads to the best hood in Paris.

I live here, so, it’s 100% likely I’m biased.

Runners and Bicyclists cruise around the canal in the AM; hooded teenagers huddle and smoke weed at night. The area is serene, and well located with Gare De L’est to the north, Republique to the south and Belleville to the east.

Haunts.

A green swirled, pistachio and chocolate escargot is the notorious pastry from Du Pain et Des Idees. The Boulangerie is also notorious for its queues.

Liberté, a new school boulangerie has an all-white facade and interior embellished with ruby red framboise croissants. Not your thing? Try a Pasteis from DonAntonia, a sneaky Portuguese bakery just across the canal. Still not your thing, grab a vegan banana chocolate cookie from Ima.

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Surrounded by dangling plants, books and daylight, Radiodays, Ten Belles, and Caoua make a trifecta of cozy coffee shops to lounge, conduct meetings or to f*** up some baked goods.

At night, a myriad of restaurant lights could blind you of the modest frontage of one of the cities best cocktail dens, Gravity Bar. The iconic Chez Prune with it’s UNESCO level terrace is harder to miss.

Across the canal, tucked between two buildings is a pathway to Comptoir General, an African nightclub fixed with palm trees and frighteningly strong Ti-Punches. On a small street near the canal, Brigitte serves up great classic cocktails and ambiance. L’Apostrophe is a dim-lit dive with live Jazz every Saturday and cheap glasses of red. If you can wait until morning, Restaurant Nola has a boozy Jazz brunch and Jambalaya.

Rue des Viniagres, Rue Lancry, Rue Lucien Sampaix and the riverwalks create a web of nightlife and neighborhood gems. Next to the hospital, Rue Marie et Louise and Rue Bichat also hold some surprising gastronomic dives. It’s also the location of the painful, and terrible night of November 13th, 2015.

Several of the bars are still open, so you can grab a pint and feel the solidarity.

History.

The history of the canals is well-documented by persons far more qualified than me, so, I’ll keep my synopsis brief.

The canal’s creation dates back to Napoleonic times. The emperor hollowed the canals to give Paris access to fresh water from the River Ourc. They transformed into a pivotal shipment route for agriculture, as the surrounding area at that time were pastures of farmland. The city spread, and infrastructure plucked and replaced pastoral life. The canals lost relevance.

In the 60’s, the decaying waterways were to be paved over by cement. Luckily, in an act of philosophical foresight, France overturned, and the canals remained. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s gentrification occurred around the canals, as the area had low rent and was close in proximity to the centric hub, Place Republique. 

The 10th Arrondissement is too good. The two tastes of a Parisian and a New Yorker went on a Tinder date and had a baby.

A neighborhood can be many things; Chelsea and Soho had expensive, shiny objects that were fun to look at, but ultimately hollow; Harlem and Saint Germain Des Pres have an amazing legacy, both vastly different in content and culture; but it’s rare and personal, I believe, for a neighborhood to hold that power, which makes you not want to be anywhere else.

With Love,

Alexander

@african.bowtie