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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Via Pinterest

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 Blue Notes: Jacques Bonsergent

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 Caoa 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.

Seriously, I’ve never felt at home in Paris, but here, within a month, I feel an urge to try and make it home again.

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

Copper Bay: World-Class Cocktails and a Landscape Redefined by Social Media

Home to a battery of bars, street food, theaters, and bobo haunts, the flourishing 10th arrondissement of Paris is brimming with places. So much so, that its consistency could be its own downfall. Steps east and west of Chateau D’eau, citizens flood from the subway stop and pack nearby haunts. You’ll pass black trench coats, drug dealing, Doc Marten’s, Indian food, large hats, homelessness, handsome dogs, and litter. Oh, joie.

Copper Bay, however, is an outpost.

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via Copperbay.fr

On a small, unassuming street, lies this superb cocktail lounge that makes everything look easy.  Ambiance. Crowd. Modesty. Soul, check. Theme*? I think so, but it doesn’t need one. Cocktails? Yes, and they make them very, very well.

The bar front doesn’t announce itself with spangled lights or a flappy sign, but rather 1 or 2 Parisiennes out front, speaking in a hushed, sophisticated tone over cigarettes.

Dark blue and orange tones light a spacious room.  It’s filled with well-dressed people who don’t intrude on your agenda with theirs, but rather, set a convivial backdrop to a fantastic stop in your night.

Via CopperBay.fr

Cocktail bars of this caliber, succumb to their ego–I’ve had unpleasant experiences at many of the renowned bars in the LES, E. Village, and even (gasp) Pigalle.

CopperBay is modest.

The bar’s remote location and its authenticity to the owner, I believe, create this modesty.

Aurelie Panhelleux is busy; it’s Friday 00h30, but she still stops to chat with us a bit about their seasonal menus. She’s earnest in tone and speaks in English, even if I could have gotten the gist in French. (Ahem, maybe)

The menu rotates based on weather rather than date. She said to expect warm, lush ingredients for their upcoming release.

Several patrons enter and give daps, or coddle the bar as if they’re waiting for the bartenders to end their shift. It hits me. They all know each other. As a bar featured on World Best Bars, I assumed differently. Copper Bay should be a destination bar, but by definition, it’s actually a dive bar.

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Within the larger sphere of the 10th quarter’s nightlife, this bar carves a distinct sphere for itself. Copper Bay and it’s patrons consider something other than wine, food, or partying as the main attraction. A new dynamic is added.

The Parisienne scene is more mature and expansive than it was at first glance. Copper Bay isn’t a kitschy tiki bar or a faux speakeasy, like so many other a la mode cocktail bars, rather it’s an authentic refuge that’s amassed a loyal following and cultivated a scene of its own.

The bar transcends the realms of a neighborhood staple and a cocktail bar on the world’s stage. This could have only happened now, in our era. Social Media allows us to probe into other spheres of life, to discover what we wouldn’t have known in past lives.

Still, Paris is off the grid to Anglosaxons. Sifting through trashy tourist reviews and a wine-based palate of the French is like searching two different worlds. There are two Paris’s, one that’s wholly French and one that is a bit like a theme park. Copper Bay angles its way into an invisible space, creating something world-class yet not world renowned.

Sure, it’s documented. But only people who have both researched cocktails, and who are informed about Paris are who will find this establishment.


Aurelie hands us a menu. Thick like a textbook, each cocktail has its own page, a description and a colorful pie graph illustrating each ingredient’s dose.

We order

-Clear my Colada: a modern revisit to the Pina Colada is built with an aged Pineapple rum, emulsified banana, fig and Verjus for a tart finish.

-Mr. Seguin: creamy, purple and savory, the drink is composed of beet juice, chive vodka, and feta cream. 

Both drinks swim smooth and host edible garnishes with them.

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In Paris, I’ve experienced many false friends in the form of sugary, light cocktails. There are a time and place for that, but with the sun sliding further on the horizon each day, with winter coming, one needs to feel belonging, one needs a cozy den to settle in and I wouldn’t have settled anywhere else.

 

With Love,

Alexander

 

Copper Bay is nautical themed.

ps. Copper Bay is currently having a soft opening in Marseille! Congrats!

Copper Bay IG: @copperbay_paris

My IG: @african.bowtie

 

 

The Blue Notes: L’Ours Bar in Chateau D’eau

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How do you choose a bar at random in Paris?

On a sweltering, August night, you choose based on the number of Parisian’s clustered out front. On a frigid, November night, you check the windows’ opacity.

L’Ours bar (the bear bar) had a particularly foggy frontage, but it wasn’t the reason we’d chosen the place.

Inside, a blond Brit wearing an oversized, black Supreme sweater sweeps passed us with 4 carbonated highballs in his hands. He nudges two of them to his date, a Frenchie. Whether they know each other or are on a Tinder date isn’t clear. But if it is a date,  L’Ours was a good choice. They santé, and he jokes that ‘this should last them a while.’

It’s crowded.

On its peaks, the bar is elbow to elbow. On its droughts, you’re lucky to find a seat. The usual suspects make an appearance, knit sweaters, blue button-down shirts, Suncoo blouses,  Godard thick-framed glasses.  The crowd isn’t edgy, or pretentious, just your run-of-the-mill Yuppie.

The bar isn’t edgy, or pretentious either; it’s sociable and…kinda fun! There are bear masks hanging from walls. At the bar, jars of quirky garnishes rest in a colorful spectrum. And the liquor selection isn’t overBEARing (boom).

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetI like L’Ours bar a lot, but, it’s frustrating because they only do things slightly better than average.

They have house cocktails, for example, which is a good sign…a plus! As I taste each of them (Le Grande Ours, Jardin Anglais), one thing becomes clear–they’re too sweet. Still, the L’Ours team makes a good effort (and look polished doing it). The bartenders are quick, down to earth, and professional. For the crowd size, they make a great team.

Five elegant girls swoop in to nab the table that just emptied behind us. The tinder daters leave, so we scoot down on our standing table, and order more drinks. I make a mental note that Happy Hour is a RiDIcuLOus deal at 6 Euro per drink.

Moments later a large swathe of people come through the doors. They look numb, disoriented from the cold. Perhaps a pub crawl, I speculate, and that means it’s time for us to go.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetBars such as the L’Ours don’t necessarily make you stop and say, ‘wow, that was a real treat!’  I’m not sure who says that anyways. But their crowd, vibe, and good drinks nudge you in the right direction.

It’s a real treat to have a reliable bar in the arsenal.  One where you can take a pub crawl, a tinder date, or a coworker. The bar is truly lighthearted, and no matter the occasion, it’s a place you can be assured a good time. And that’s sets the bear high for the rest of the evening.

Branding in France distills down to three principles; is it cute, is it time-honored, or is it refined?

I suspiciously eye the garnish–a gummi bear. There’s a soft power in cuteness, just as there’s a soft power in reliability.

With Love,

Alexander


IG: @animauxbars

8 Rue de Paradis, Paris, France

A History of Mojitos and Paris: The Life, Love, and Death of a Recipe

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We all know the mojito as a light, crisp, beachside kind of a rum cocktail. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the recipe:

Mojito via Wikipedia

{1.5 oz Light Rum, 6 leaves of mint, 1 oz of fresh lime juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and top with soda water}

And I have a hunch that when thinking of Paris, most Americans imagine cobblestone roads, a moonlit riverwalk, and beautiful stone architecture with the Eiffel tower peeking out over the horizon.

When I was a child, the city had a mythic aura. It was the city of love, fabled, as it was the starting point and ending of my parent’s 2-month long European honeymoon.

27 years later, remorsefully, I’ve been disillusioned.

 

1. What’s A La Mode?

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Like a jockey over a grassy bank, Paris bounds over trends.

It’s most notable in sneakers, a relatively new phenomenon in the city, which, sourced by my girlfriend, did not exist prior to 2013—it wasn’t the Parisian way.

By the time I’d arrived in W15, Nike Air Max 93’s and New Balance were at large. I spent November, December, and January in Paris, and as the new year swung around we saw a brusque rebirth of the classic, Stan Smiths. We saw them with such frequency that we dubbed the term Stan Smith couple, two chic lovebirds who wear matching white sneaks.

Following that trend, in 2016, Adidas had a big year. The Sambas, Gazelles and any throwbacks that resembled the prototypes took off—I’m guilty of buying a pair. The ‘baskets’ as the French call them, became acceptable footwear for upscale restaurants and even clubs, as long as they were properly kept. Three stripes had a clinch on this lux-leisure category, that is, until the CS came out, which while an interesting, minimalist concept, they were easily mimicked by higher end brands—Balenciaga most notably—and Adidas’ consumer attention was siphoned.

My return to Paris S17 marked the end of this sleek era, and the rebirth of bulky, 90’s styled shoes. Bulky + Retro kicks opened the door wide for Nike. Over summer the Air Max 95’s and 97’s have proliferated throughout the city again.

Paris went full circle, in a handful of years.

Now, I’m trying to make a point about trends in Paris. They live and they die. They run rampant, uncontrollable throughout this city.  A city that’s small enough to stroll through by foot, yet large enough to have significant global influence.

So why in a city of movement, and turbulent trends, is the mojito the lone beacon of stability?

2. The Origin of the Mojito

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Cocktail culture is a relatively new transplant in France. Since 2015, to my knowledge, one thing has remained stable—the most common cocktail in Paris is the Mojito. Along with a wine list and three beers on draught, across the city, the drink makes an appearance as a house cocktail.

To me, it’s a silly, late-college-years of a drink. A drink that, for a time, was the only reason I’d buy mint.

My first memory of a mojito, however, doesn’t stem from a story of a sophisticated college roommate. It originates with my father taking me to a hair salon with a pint of silver rum and a bag of mint. He had the type of charisma and warmth where only he could get away with that. At the age of 12, I’d sit, and get my haircut, while he’d prepare mojitos for the hairdresser and himself.

Ice clanks at the bottom of the glass. Pressure releases from the Diet Sprite bottle. Mixed with the humming of the razor, he’d sit with a second glass while his hair was trimmed.

The hairdresser was a tall, thin, dark-skinned woman of Vietnamese descent. She’d been a go-go dancer before immigrating and spoke with a thick accent and the elastic thwap that you hear in native Vietnamese. As a kid just entering my teen years, I remember my skin crawl when her forearm brushed my forehead and cheek. And I’d feel a bit sad when I looked at my finished appearance in the mirror. I never told my father.

Years of bad haircuts pass at the shop. They’d talk and laugh, and drink mojitos while I waited. Eventually, she’d set my father up with one of her girlfriends. This happened almost a decade later.

To clarify, my father isn’t the antagonist of the story, he’s just the origin.

3. I’ve learned over the course of life that my goals exist in duality; towards the acceptance of myself and against obedience to society. I cannot do either alone. I must accomplish both in cohesion.

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On a severely cold night in W14, under a typical red and white striped awning in St. Germain Des-Pres, we’d sat for drinks. Parisians with cigarettes fill straw chairs. Smoke, laughter, and light rain spills into the dark, cobblestone streets.

The servers wear suspenders. One has memorably Gaulish looks, short, impish with a strong nose and naturally tanned skin. He handed us the menu; mojitos were the drink of the moment as if Bacardi was having a sample sale in France.

I order a Mint Julep.

Pas Mal. At least the bar has crushed ice.

I returned to this bar on several occasions, and each time, I strayed from my Mojito scarred past with a French 75, a Dark & Stormy, even a Negroni. 

How do we deal with the past?

The iconic writer’s of Paris loved drinking; Cafe de Flore in St. Germain is Sartre, as Montparnasse is F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I find these parallels uninteresting and useless.  Signs stand in their place like tombstones. You can and will be able to read about the history of these cafes for years to come. Nowadays, you pass these haunts and people take selfies, talk about dogs and the new bags they’ve bought down the street. Why do you want to sit where the writers were? The seats aren’t imbued. Find your own sunny terrace to smoke and please, ponder anything other than existentialism.

Historically speaking, Mojito’s more often than not, are associated with Hemmingway and his friend Sir Baker. In the Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker, he lists the Sloppy Joe Mojito—as a ‘far superior Rum Collins.’ One of the holy trinity of Cuban cocktails.

His measurements are:

{In a collins glass add several lumps of ice, 1 tsp of Sugar, green lime peel, 1.5 jiggers of Gold Rum (2.25 oz), juice of 1 small lime (1.25 oz), top with a good club soda, & bunches of mint.}

Compared with the recipe now:

{Ice, 1.5 oz Light (Silver) Rum, 6 leaves of mint, 1 oz of fresh lime juice, 2 tsp of sugar, and top with soda water}

Mr. Baker liked his mojitos strong! In the current recipe, there is twice as much sugar and about .75  of the rum. And I dare you to find a bar in Ils-de-France that makes it without silver rum.

Why you might ask? Because taste buds are watered down. We strive for the past, but we simply cannot deal with the reality of it. With drinks such as the mojito, we’ve forgotten that the goal of a cocktail is not to mask the alcohol, but to enhance it.

The mojito is at its most popular, yet most decadent state.

One night in S18, I joined my girlfriend and a couple of her friends for drinks. La Colonie, located between Gare De L’est and Gare Du Nord, is a hollowed passage where you can drink, and after a certain hour, dance. The top drink: Mojitos.  They looked good–Mint sprigs popping out everywhere and shit. I caved and ordered one. Sweet, carbonated and just as I’d known it. Just as I’d known it three years ago, and just as I’d known it 15 years ago. Frustrated, I flicked the straw. Droplets fly from the tip and hit a French girl across from me. As I sat there, something sank within me. There was nothing I could do or say to make a difference. My decision landed me here, and for the moment with this mojito, and all this baggage in Paris.

4. Mojito’s are Refreshing

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When I was 18, I visited Paris for the first time with my family. How fresh that felt! To be off of the American continent for the first time, and to realize that I could drink legally! I drank a couple of Heinekens one night and wobbled back to our hotel. I sipped some champagne a different night and felt sleepy. This was the extent. I was too young to savor, to embrace. I was at the age where nights like these seem infinite in number.

I didn’t realize that these surroundings, the small streets, dark windows and red brasseries, the ancient churches, winding metro tunnels and manicured parks, Paris, just as it was the birth, it would be the coffin to my parent’s marriage.

I’d start university in the fall and only a few months afterward, they sat me at a table and told me they’d be divorced. In private, my father told me that he’d hoped Paris would reignite a spark. That revisiting would bring them back to how great it once was. 

Now, I look upon this city and I see clothing shops and a milieu of castles strewn about the Seine. Blurry faces of tourists from all over the world take pictures of the most well-known, oversaturated attractions, and sit at a cafe when they tire and drink mojitos. I know there are hidden passages, I know there are secret societies, caché pockets of life that I can’t yet find.

But I wonder, is my relationship with you dying, Paris? Can we revive it? Obviously, we can’t trash or ignore the mojito. The mojito is everywhere and all-encompassing, a cocktail, like a Cuban diety.  So, can we remake the mojito in a new way? 

Or will I be stuck on the sofa, rewinding the memory of my father’s haircuts?

 

With Love,

Alexander

 

 

The Blue Notes: Denfert Rochereau

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Lines seem to be a theme in Denfert Rochereau.

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You ascend the staircase, and just across the street is a line for the Catacombs. On the West side is a line for the ORLY Bus. To the Southwest, I’ve seen Cafe Oz have lines that intersect the line for the ORLY Bus. It’s almost a joke, except, I have a hunch that it literally is a joke. Look. There. A Parisienne sitting with a Spritz, watching you suffer. They’re laughing. They’re toasting to you.

Play it cool.

Once I saw a guy ask acceuil (information), ‘where’s the bus driver?’ and put his face towards the sky in agony when the answer was ‘he’s taking a coffee.’

Again, play. it. cool.

Denfert, once you step out of the line, is a fantastic little place. It’s great for a day or a night. It’s great for meeting friends, walking around, exploration and drinks.

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Rue Daguerre, just a block away, is a major walking street in Denfert Rochereau that is home to bars, cafés, and eateries. There are also boutiques, a fish market, a good bowl of pho and a wonderful stall for farm-to-table produce.

I’ll write another article on it, but I recommend walking through and seeing what attracts you. (Coming soon)

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A sprawling playground for adults called Les Grands Voisins is down Avenue Denfert Rochereau. It’s a massive beer garden with live music, pop-up shops and a few food vendors inside an abandoned hospital.

At night, big band jazz jams for an exuberant crowd of at least 100 people. During the day board-game developers give tutorials for their newest releases. Since moving from Brooklyn, this is one of the few places that have impressed me with its uniqueness and creativity.

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The history of the neighborhood is well documented and even referenced in Les Miserables, unique periods of style marks the architecture.

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There’s also a hodgepodge of cool street art. While not enough to stop and admire, it puts a nice accent on the neighborhood.

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Denfert Rochereau is my favorite hub in South Paris, because of its variety of bars, restaurants, and shops. It is well worth a visit, for reasons other than standing in line.

With Love,

Alex

Read Also:

The Weekend Guide to Bruges: The Do’s & Don’ts in a Tourist Town

In Brugge we trust.

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Some days you feel down, and you don’t know why. On other days, you know the exact causes.

I’ve been rejected from French courses for no apparent reason, ghosted on apartment tours, and my book is now out of my hands, so, to escape this pestilential air, I decide to hit the road with a backpack and an old mate.

We rent a car for the 3.5-hour shuttle north on Highway 1 and watch white clouds disperse over the rolling, gold countryside of France. To Bruges!

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Brugge: Of course, I’d heard of it from the Colin Farell film. I know that they specialize in beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries (a fu**in phenomenal combo) and that the town has the sleepy, enchanted atmosphere of a fairytale village.

fullsizeoutput_ca4In reality, Brugge is calm. It has a walkable, medieval city center, with a sprawling suburb just across each of its 21 bridges. Cobblestone roads wind through every sector of the city, and they become lamplit after twilight. Lush parks, waterways, and overhanging greenery dots every vista. Bike lanes are well marked, and the frontage of brick apartments look like a freshly swept staircase. The air is pure, and the tourists run wild!

Don’t #1: Continually reference the film ‘In Bruges’

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Source: IMDB

It’s a great film. It really is. But there comes a point in a person’s first few hours actually in Bruges, where you realize that everyone and their cousin is also referencing the movie. ‘In Bruges’ isn’t as ‘indie’ or rare as you thought, and it turns out that between that film and the unfortunate nickname ‘Venice of the North,’ poor Bruggians have a lot to live up to.

Do #1: Book a hotel over Airbnb or Hostel

At 8pm, we check into Monsieur Maurice after a short walk from a parking lot (Bevrijdingslaan), gratis, a brilliant recommendation from our hotel.

A quaint entryway with black marble and violet tones leads us to the concierge. She hands us a key and a map. My friend and I split a small, yet immaculate room with a private bathroom–45€ a night. Breakfast and Wifi are included.

My friend wrote this of his hostel ‘it felt like a majority of the people partying (at the hostel), worked there as well. So, they were those wannabe bohemians who think it’s dope that they’re living in Brugge for 2 months and bartending at a hostel.’ 

Spot on.

Inexpensive, boutique hotels are the name of the game in Brugge making it a perfect place for a cozy, stressfree stay.

Don’t #2: Fall for tourist traps

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The concierge hands me a list of recommendations and explains in French. I’m not French, however, I’m proud that I know enough to fake it. After double checking on TripAdvisor, we try one. It’s a traditionally Flemish restaurant called, the Flemish pot, or De Vlaamsche Pot.

Our dish, their traditional stew, is a beef brisket that I imagine had been tumbling in a hotpot of bbq-ketchupy sauce for a day and a half…served over frites. It’s goopy, heavy, and far too sweet.

Brugge, living up to it’s ‘Venice of the North’ label, grants you the experience of an antique store, where you’re perpetually sorting through what is genuine and what is kitsch.

A few signs of Tourist Traps:

-Free Wifi Sticker

-English Menus

-‘Traditional’ Beer Samplers

Do #2: Wake up early (745am-815am)

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Breakfast at our hotel opens at 8am. We’re sure to be there not 5 minutes later.

An early start follows the locals’ schedule. You can feel the warmth of bakeries and local businesses as you beat out the hellish lines that form a few hours later. We arrive at the Belfry with only a handful of people in front of us, which, wins us the day.

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Upon exiting the belfry, we dart past the droves to the boat tour and then see Michelangelo’s Madonna. Having accomplished those three in-town musts, we decide to rent bikes and cross the bridge.

Do #3: Rent bikes

A simple tip; Brugge has well-marked bike lanes and bikes open your horizon.

Don’t #3: Ride in the middle of the road

Motor Bikes thunder past in these bike lanes, so please, be safe.

Do #4: Eat at a Modern Brugge Bistro

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Two Words: Tête Pressée. In a neighborhood far, far away from the tourist center lies this lunch-only, peach of a bistro.

For an entree we ordered the house special, a crispy tartine covered in clumps of foie gras, topped with pickled radish shavings;  filets of skate coated in parsley and a citric oil. For our main course, we were served a Belgian risotto, that surprisingly resembled the flavor profiles of Gumbo, tossed with sausage, shrimp and clams.

Don’t #4:  Think that you need to eat Frites more than once

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Source: NYTimes

I word it this way because you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Just warning you, it’s not any different the second time around.

We went to Chez Vincent, a fast-food joint written up in the NYTimes for their superior frites, and I was heavily disappointed. Unsalted and needs sauce!

Do #5: Have one or two beers and then taste everyone else’s

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Pubs in Brugge look like a distant relative of British or Irish bars with swinging logos of the preferred beverage out front, and a wooden interior with stools, small tables, and dim lit backrooms. Along with the ridiculous amount of Belgian beers, each has a distinct tulip, flute, or mug, to enhance the aeration.

I assumed the pubs would be touristy. But I assumed wrong. They had an organic mix of locals sprinkled with a few Anglosaxons. The three I tried were:

t’ Bruges Beer

A lively, old-fashioned pub with locals and tourists alike. Deep beer list and a cheap 50cl.

t’ Poatersgat

Divey as Brugge gets, an underground cellar with a rowdy ambiance. Best with a large group of chums.

Cafe Rose Red

Quiet, kitschy festoons of roses, for couples who care for great beer at a premium price.

Don’t #5: Have 5 or 6 beers yourself without assessing first

There are limits to trying things out. Remember, Belgian beers are around 8%-11% Abv, so be prudent when drinking. My friends and I went a little overboard, and the legendary Trappist ales gave me a legendary Trappist hangover.


Hope you enjoyed this guide, I’ll leave some extra links for you at the bottom.

A serene town like Bruges cures the big city woes.

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With Love,

Alexander

ig: @african.bowtie

 

Restaurants:

Tête Pressée

#LocalFare #Bistro #OneOfAKind

Blackbird

#Brunch #VegetarianOptions

Lieven

#Bistro #LocalFare #FreshIngredients

Amuní

#Pizza #SlowFood

Hotels:

Monsieur Ernest

Monsieur Maurice