1.5 The Blue Notes–Panic Room

December 16th

Panic Room—02h00

You still open?

Of course.

Doors down lies a packed bar. It’s where I wanted to go. Before we were sidetracked by L’Etincelle.

A caricatured overweight, black doorman hassles us.

He reels us in after a drawn out moment. Loud music. Loud people. Dirty, dark bar. Leftovers from all the other bars. 3 lagers. I find a place to sit on a dirty booth. Arcade lights from old 8-bit machines tinge the darkness.

In the corner, stairs lead downard.

A cave. Dotted rainbow lights undulate up and down the length of the ceiling. Electro music. Decent crowd, crowded at least, mostly jock boys and glam girls, guys who still flaunt their positions and wear fitted dress shirts, girls who sport heels, gold jewellery and cleavage. And the worst: Anglosaxons.

After a moment I notice mirrors on the far wall. The room is smaller than I thought.

A tall guy with a goofy haircut starts talking to us. He’s from the middle of France, works for Airbus in Germany. He talks like he’s explaining.

‘There are some girls from New York over there and you might be happy meeting them, as you are also from New York.’

Whatever’s clever.

He brings them over. They’re from Massachusetts. But they’ve been to New York. 🤦🏽‍♂️Classic mixup.

Genuinely, they seem nice. ‘Just in town for the weekend,’ they say. Like my friend.

She says that she doesn’t know him at all. Weird, he introduced them like old friends. Now he lurks over in the corner, not speaking, just watching, drinking. Either a creep, or he’s just rolling the dice. Hoping something happens.

My girlfriend has disappeared. Annoyed, perhaps. I excuse myself.

She’s in the middle of the dance floor. I wade over to her. In a sea of drunk faces. I kiss her. We’re ok. It’s time to leave. My friend joins us. Says he couldn’t keep the conversation up. We ascend the stairs. What a shit show. 

One more stop. The Photo Booth. We snap drunken, goofy photos. Forever remembering a night at this shitty little after hours club.

Out the door, up Rue Amelot. A large sculpture of a man riding a horse rests illuminated atop Oberkampf circus. Then, to République.

Marianne is bathed in Indigo, Red, and moments later, White, like an on duty policeman. But her base is tagged. It’s defiled, littered with rubbish. This is still the beginning of the story regarding the Gilets Jaune.

Fin.

1.4 The Blue Notes – L’Etincelle

December 16th

L’Etincelle—h0000


On Boulevard Beaumarchais, the rain has let up. A mob of drunk French twenty-somethings storm passed us. One member kicks the steel shutters of a shop. Mocking the Gilets Jaunes. Another lets out a blasé puff of cigarette smoke.

We continue North.

The name changes: Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire. We turn on a narrow side street, Rue Amelot.

People spill into the street.

An ordinary Bar-Tabac.

Why not?
We enter. Yeah, it’s an ordinary bar-tabac. Except it kinda isn’t. There’s a cigarette stand in the front, lottery tickets in the corner. Neon lights illuminate the ceiling like a casino in Vegas. Dance party in the back of the bar.

3 demi-pints: <8€ : WTF.

An extraordinary amount of Italians are present. We discover Alberto, an Italian architect, is having a going away party. We weave through the crowd of dashing, objectively good-looking Italians. My girlfriend wishes him a happy birthday, as do I. He engages her in conversation.

I turn and ask the barman if he sells single cigarettes. He doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t, stupid question. We ask for beer instead. He hands us two pints and a single cigarette–on the house.

What a guy.

Outside, people cluster. An Italian woman with curly, raven’s black hair, blue eyes, and a post-punk style gazes my way. She’s talking to a bohemian drunkard. He notices, and rambles towards us. She leaves, and joins a different conversation.

The drunk man has a large tome in his hand. Opens to pictures of pastoral France. Clumsy, mumbling, he loves his book, he says. A photo of a stone house surrounded by long blades of grass. He’s fallen in love with an Italian woman and wants to buy this house for her. He motions to the aforementioned woman.

My girlfriend joins the conversation.

‘Alberto has quite the reputation at this bar,’ she pokes. He’s what university folks call a stud. She jests about his vibrant black hair. No holes, no receding hairline, just a hairy Italian with good genes.

A group next to us talks about building a building. They’re all architects. They’re also all wasted.

A bumbling intellectual walks up to us. He has a broad nose, tanned skin and long salt and pepper hair.

‘My umbrella, it’s my prized possession,’ he starts. ‘It gives me a look of sophistication and it protects me from rain.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ my friend tells him.

He tells us that my friend is a fine and sensible man, but could use some refinement. An archetypally French view.

We find that the strange intellectual is from Corsica.

My girlfriend jokes that when his glasses are placed atop his head, holding his hair back, he looks like a celebrity philosopher. We all laugh.

He responds that my friend is sensible, but my girlfriend is too brutal. He continues that women need sensibility as well, because men are utter victims to their ferocity.

This upsets my girlfriend, and she leaves for the bathroom. We enter the bar with this Corsican. He buys us beers. Bingo.

For fun, my friend and I fill out French lotto tickets, and slide them in the ballot. The bar gives a last call, and we move our belongings near the door.

Grand farewells. Alberto is lost in a sea of beautiful black-haired, Italian youth.

I look around. I hear, ‘Alex!’ It’s my girlfriend.

The philosopher has cornered my girlfriend, talking to her in that uncomfortably close manner, which some men have the bad habit of doing.

I skate towards them. I force him to step back, using my arm. He acts with naivety, stunned by my action and leaves. I apologise to her. I should’ve been there sooner.

We grab our coats,

soured by that confrontation,

and part.

Fin.

1.3 The Blue Notes – Moonshiner

December 15th

Moonshiner—h2130

A rainy night. 

Near Place Des Vosges, on the outskirts of the Marais, the backstreets are slick and empty. The three of us scamper across the wide Boulevard Beaumarchais. Rain picks up. It’s near freezing. Street lights reflect in a violent orange hue.

My feet are damp, but my mouth tastes of a perfectly charred steak from Le Petit Marche

Around the corner lies a pizzeria. We’re not eating again.

We enter, greet ‘bonsoir’ and cut through to the back. To the cooler. My friend isn’t expecting it. We’re in the cooler now. Miscellaneous stock, barrels, boxes and cartons are stored behind a wired cage. I force him to wait an extra second.

On the far wall lies a trap door. I turn the handle. 

Here we are. A crowded, backlit bar aka the Moonshiner. 

Buena Sera. The bartender yells over the crowd. They’re wearing 30’s attire and listening to 70’s music.

I scour the room. A herd has formed, as sheep normally do, in the narrowest area of the bar, making it very difficult to pass. Every seat is occupied. Hype kids. Don’t step on anyone’s shoes.


Two Vodka Pomegranates and 1 Negroni. I direct us to the smoking lounge. Here, we’re able to procure a few stools, and schmooze without the imposing screeches and elbows of neighbors. 

Tucked behind candle-lit tables, tightly-knit couples line the other wall. 

My buddy flips through pictures of his two weeks in Morocco, vehemently explaining the scarcity of alcohol in the country, and how every bar was technically a real Speakeasy. His iPhone 8Plus captures the sublime light of the Sahara. Of the Atlas Mountains. Of the blue city, Chefchaouen


1 Gin & Honey and Two Negronis this time. We switch to the political system in the US. ‘The Republicans play the game better.’ Brash, manipulative, insidious—in politics, these are all considered qualities. Democrats won seats in the house, but it’s not enough. 

We face two problems: their subordinates and their superiors.  

The US has become so bipartisan that if anyone is out of alignment, the system fails. This, to me, feels…outdated.

My eyes wander to others in the room. Darkness obscures their faces, and space obscures their voices. It’s my turn. I leave to get more drinks.


Near the bar, I recognise a man from the smoking room. A 90’s Leo lookalike in a well-cut white T-shirt. He’s short (I’m 195 cm. People are short.), and wears the smile of a young, yet already successful man, a person who knows exactly where he’s going next. His ravishing date joins him, and they exit in a cloud of sparkling dust. Merci, to the bartender in a beret and vest, and I head back to the smoking section.

1 Gin & Honey, 1 Gin-Campari and Vermouth (Negroni) and the piece de resistance a Gin, Cucumber and Yogurt cocktail. Frothy, refreshing, phenomenal.  

After the drink, we pack up, and stumble outside.  

Fin.

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.

The Outsider’s Guide to Belleville: Chinatown Deux and Montmartre Deux

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.