5.26 The Blue Notes

May 26th, 2018

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The Setting: 30 minutes before the 2018 Champion’s League final, Real Madrid vs. Liverpool with a growing fervor for the upcoming World Cup.

Two friends have invited us to a local’s bar in Denfert Rochereau, a small, cool, but not quite a chic hub, which separates inner and outer South Paris. The bar is one of those you go to get decent priced drinks, and although they don’t have a good Gin Fizz, and aren’t highly rated on La Fourchette or even Google, the mojitos are average and thus satisfying.

In the air, an essence wafts that all French flock to on a sunny evening. The bar is nothing special, or distinct, but lifts you into a good mood, and leaves you buzzing for hours.

From Porte D’Orleans, a messy pocket of Paris where nothing is cute, nothing is fancy, nothing shines except the occasional clean bus window.  We speed-walk north on Avenue General Leclerc to get there. Brick, mortar, and stone bâtiments are painted in vermilion colors from the sun’s departure, it’s 9pm.

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Subway map confusing AF, but you will notice Porte D’Orleans circled at the bottom.
Denfert Rochereau is where we are headed.

Porte D’OrleansOne of the many bus terminals of Paris, signified by its name ‘Porte,’ meaning door.  Like any bus terminal, it’s not a place you choose to spend time. Unfortunately, we live on the opposite side, and to enter Paris, you must use a door.


Underneath a red-tiled roof rests a flower-filled window sill, and above spreads an indigo sky. The ground level hosts a bio (organic) grocer, a brasserie,  a small magasin for chachka. As we pass Alesia and close on Denfert Rochereau, clothing retailers, and perks of France become more apparent. Boulangeries with sprawling displays of brioches, baguettes, and biscuits.

A man spits a fat loogie on the street. Disgusting;

“C’est dégoûtant!” my gf Cece yells at him.

He is a hulking man. The sleeves of his brown hoodie look like cigar leaves, stuffed to the brim with tobacco. I haven’t been to the gym in months. ‘Attention!’ I yell. We accelerate and cross the street at the next intersection.

Almost hit by a scooter, ‘putain,’ the rider curses at me as he whizzes; ‘pardon,’ I yell back. So far, it’s been a fantastic night.

Disoriented, lost, moving to a new country has reintroduced me to these old friends of mine.

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A brief existential interlude:

  1. What am I doing here?  2. Why am I so opinionated? 3. Who the f*** am I anyway?

I ask myself these questions every day. We all do, I’m sure.

  • Irrefutably, I moved to Paris for my girlfriend. Though we might dispute if it was the best move, after three years in a long distance relationship, a relationship where nothing is certain, especially not the ‘where,’ I jumped on the quickest route: a year-long Visa and a one-way on Norwegian Air to CDG.
  • I’m opinionated because currently, I’m adrift.  Those who know me see a serene person on the outside. But I brood! I’m a brooder, not a bruiser! And my opinions form from this ego, they funnel from a place that seethes with these emotions and wishes to express them, but in futility (and maybe fear?) I pander, and joke, and supplace my truths with sarcasm.
    • Note: Alexander, you will work on this throughout the year. 
  • Once I was told that everyone needs family, needs community. This was in response to the feeling I was suffering from the distance with my own. That I was failing because I felt distance from my own. I was failing to keep in touch with them. But family helps form identity, they said. Family grounds oneself. The cliche goes, you don’t choose your family. But family chooses to change while you’re away, and act like things are the same when you return, family makes mistakes, and you must forgive family or else larger problems will follow you along your travels. Who can you forgive, if not family? Choosing to create new ‘families’ is a decision made out of love, not of rejection of your origins.

I ask myself these questions every day. We all do, I’m sure.


In Paris, warm weather drives people to the streets like the first week of Pokemon Go. Except, instead of breaking into private property or stumbling upon dead bodies in the river, Parisiens long for a streetside table, and a straw chair.

Along with an Aperol Spritz, a packet of cigarettes, their ego, and maybe some olive tapenade, they sit, watch and talk, inhaling and exhaling smoke in their OH SO dignified way with three cigarette-free fingers waving and controlling the conversation like a Maestro on his podium.

We pass an Indiana Café, a Mexican-American French bar chain, and head to a different bar chain–Café Oz.


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Cafe Oz — Denfert Rochereau

The Land Down Under now cares about Soccer, Neopolitan Pizza and has ‘Surf Bars.’

This installment of the Australian bar chain is top. And by top, I mean the best of its kind.  A massive outdoor beer garden supplemented by cheap Fosters and decent pizza makes it the fucking JAM for Futbol matches. Plus, when the sun’s gone down, the dj turns up, and the crowd gets wild. It’s top-40. It’s Calvin Harris. It’s LMFAO. It’s more Belle Eclasse (Beautiful Trash) from Australia.

Setting: the Champion’s League final, Madrid vs. Liverpool.

We’ve made it. The place is elbow to elbow. Squeezing past a viewing area indoors, we find our friends at a spacious beer garden out back called the Surf bar.

Small thought: the French must equate the two geographically large anglophone countries with terrible, cheap beer because that’s precisely what you find at these bar chains. Maybe they’re right?

We’ve joined two French guys, and one of my gf’s friends, a wonderful spirit, who seems to lack an unfunny bone in her body. I’ll call her Zara.

She once leaned over with her cigarette in hand and simply whispered ‘I met Cece partying, and we became friends.’ Like that’s the process. 1. You meet someone at a party 2. You become friends. Another time she told us of a guy who texted her at a late, late hour–presumably another friend from another party. Her response was, ‘just because I’m Brazilian, doesn’t mean there’s a time difference.’ Effectively shutting him down, and making a joke out of it. Her frizzy hair and huge smile takes up the as much room as her personality, and I’ve had many great moments watching her antics. C’est énorme meuf.

Her guy Max is a genuine Gosling, an extremely nice dude with puppy dog looks. I try with my French to get to know him, but the crowd is too loud, and often you can find out more about a person, just hanging around them. He’s surprised to find out that I like soccer. I’m surprised to find out that he lives in Versailles. Memories of the sparkling marble floors and twisting stairwells come to memory. But, apparently, people who live in Versailles don’t live in the actual castle.

Mo Salah, Liverpool’s star is injured and carried off the field. An injury that we will see affect his performance in the World Cup. So far, it’s been an even match, but this is a huge loss for Liverpool.

I turn to the scene; an eclectic crowd has gathered.

The first table to catch my eye has two elegantly aged women sitting with a bottle of Rosé on ice. One strikes me as beautifully out of place at this rowdy sport’s bar; dark lipstick, her hair is up; she wears a blue sundress, cigarette in hand, smoke envelops, and she’s shrouded from all excitement in the match.

The table next to them hosts a group of well-groomed 20-somethings with expensively cut white-T’s, designer sunglasses and recently trimmed hair, a girl with spaghetti string top joins them. She’s wearing striped bell bottoms that blossom in the way that is at once fashionable and ironic because it’s unfashionable.

Behind them, next to us has a table of guys that Cece calls racailles, or ‘the uneducated.’ This is a term that I will return to. Personally, I dislike the term and find it marginalizing and classist. I, however, have not had the experience of being catcalled by a large group of them, followed down dark alleys, and cornered for my wallet. These guys wear Lacoste joggers, jerseys, tanks and pull their hats low. They’re a bit louder than everyone, point at women, use improper grammar, pour pitchers and toast. The table has done nothing harmful to me, they seem to be having a good time, and still, these supplanted thoughts creep into my head.

Boom, Madrid scores right out of the half. It’s Karim Benzema, king of racailles, whose stunts curbed him from Les Bleus at this World Cup. Then, out of nowhere Liverpool equalizes. The Surf bar goes wild. Red jerseys are lifted into the air. It seems as if the bar is more than 50/50.

We order two pizzas, and I grab another drink. One of the guys from the table next to us ushers his crew to the bar. They use elbows. I patiently turn to the screen. The match is closely contested. Then, Gareth Bale is subbed in.

Out of my periphery, I notice a group of West Africans in Yellow uniforms. They look to be a part of some crew, not watching the game and instead huddled in a small circle, one yelling to the others. When I look back, the game is out of hand. The Welsh footballer has a monstrous 30 minutes, scoring two goals, and leading the heavily favored team to a win.

After the game, the lights turn low, and the DJ tries to shift the mood. I’m wearing Doc Marten’s, aka an impossible mood to shift. So we leave it at that and depart for home.

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Bise,

Alexander


Follow me on,

Insta: @african.bowtie

Mapstr: @ african.bowtie

Très Chic, Très Zen Bars: Des Prés Tapas in Montrouge

Listen. Tapas are Spanish, but the Spanish don’t just eat Tapas. Got it?

One of my friends from Madrid reminded me of this cliché like…hmm..they only drink sangria, and dance Flamenca, and stay up gabbing until 4am, wait, no, that is a real thing. If anything, the Spanish rival the French in terms of tradition, but the French will forever be difficult to top in cuisine.

So, when the French make French tapas, believe that they are insane.

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Hol’ up. This site is about drinks though, correct? True, but while in Europe we have to get a few things straight. Each country in Europe has their own drinking ideology, and they are often very different from ours.

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That’s me.

The French believe in complements, not to be confused with compliments. Rather than balance, drinks build off of a meal and elevate the experience, creating uplifting, convivial atmosphere. A stark contrast from a moody dive bar banging Gang of Four, ironic leather vests, and empty rocks glasses. If the French sound uppity, they’re not, they are just raised this way. It’s instinctual. And it’s a little unfair to label instinct as uppityness (yes, it’s a word).

Anyways, back to the food, back to Des Pres Tapas. I’m almost done and I’ve hardly written about the restaurant!

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Their raison d’etre is their tapas, a spectrum of flavors, neatly divided on a menu as meat, fish, or vegetable. Gambas sauteed in Pastis, hand-made falafel, mini-croque monsieurs, and roasted veggies with thick wedges of Pecorino delight the table. Pair four or five plates with a cheap glass of Rosé, and you won’t be disappointed. Pair it with a bottle, and you’ll be feeling all types of jolly as you hobble out of the somewhat cramped, casual yet elegant spot.

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Opened just earlier this month, Des Pres is the laid back edition of their next-door neighbor, and the Montrouge culinary Juggernaut, Aubergine et Cie. I’d imagine that the owners have plans for the future.

They have draft beers from Brasserie Toussaint, a craft brewery from Louveciennes, (dare you to pronounce that) France. And a large list of wines as cheap as 3 Euro a glass.

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Me also

If you want a drink without all the fuss of eating involved, below I have a list of other bars in the area for a cocktail. Also, I’ll attach Des Pres info, if you want to do your own snooping.

Bise,

Alexander

Insta: @african.bowtie

Mapstr: @african.bowtie

Address: 38 Avenue Henri Ginoux, 92120 Montrouge

Website: des-pres.fr

Read also:

  • 5 Decent Enough Bars Walking Distance from Porte D’Orleans
  • 5 Bars That Make the Terminus Marie De Montrouge Less Boring
    • coming soon

The Blue Notes: Alésia

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Alésia–a Metro stop with a name like a fairytale or a Disney movie, and while that comparison may hype it up WAY too much, it is a cute pocket with enchanting backstreets and a surprising amount of life during the day and nighttime. There are brasseries to brunch, eat oysters, and smoke–all the essentials of quotidian Parisienne lifestyle.

The mini-streets and mysterious doors of Alesia.

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Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montrouge, like so many other Catholic churches in Paris, rises out of the middle with authority, and an eerily inescapable shadow. This means: Jesus is watching you. Jesus sees you entering that KFC over there.

Just because you went to the gym, does not mean that you deserve to eat a crispy chicken sandwich! – Judgemental French Jesus

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Alesia may not be on the mustache-trimmer of cool, but it is a nice hub that, if you are spending a summer or a semester in Paris, you should visit at least once. Pourquoi pas?

It’s perfect for a weekday drink, in a typically Parisienne, uncrowded, untouristy hub.  As you walk North, retailers pop up–Zara, Muji, Lush–and this saves a trek across the city.

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While the vibe may not be snoot-level 100 like the 15th or 16th arr., it is an uncompromising mix of casual and typical Paris.

Below, I’ll attach some bars if you’re feeling up for a normal night, accentuated by a drink in the sun.

 

Bise,

Alexander

 

Follow me:

Insta: @african.bowtie

 

The Blue Notes: Porte D’Orleans

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The Southern gate of a wall destroyed in World War 1, Porte D’Orleans looks like it hasn’t gotten it’s act together since. For about a month and a half now, I’ve been living in Paris, and I’ve walked through this hub, maybe 100 f***ing times. It’s not a pretty place. I said it Paris, Porte D’Orleans is NOT a pretty place.

This Porte, or door of Paris is a hectic spot during the day with heavy traffic, and sullen faces.

A bus terminal rests to the Southwest and Southeast; a tram line rolls through the center; and on the North end, Avenue General Leclerc leads you towards the Catacombs of Paris. The area also hosts several homeless men, which is, unfortunately, a very apparent problem in the city.

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It’s still Paris. A woman with a flowing black overcoat and obtrusive sunglasses picks up a well-groomed greyhound before they cross the street; at another instance, two archetypal insta-girls pass with simple white tank tops, combat boots, and plaid pants; a mec with windswept hair and a blue blazer cuts me off; however, most pedestrians are city workers, heading home after long hours.

Skip Port D’Orleans (there’s really nothing to see!) unless it’s mandatory that you walk through it for your hotel, as a transfer point to the tram, or to buy a pack of cigarettes.

A small park beyond the Southwest bus terminals makes a decent place to sit and eat a sandwich or pound a croissant. But, I’d even refrain from buying this snack in Porte D’Orleans.

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At night, it’s the same thing. The place isn’t dodgy, but it surely isn’t an area you’d want to spend a night out, or even stop to get a drink.

If you’re for some reason marooned here, fret not, I’ve compiled a list of nearby bars, which are surprisingly…nice.

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  • 5 Semi-Decent Bars Walking Distance from Porte D’Orleans
  • 1st Entry, Southern Paris
    • coming soon

 

Bise,

Alexander

Ps. Living in large cities over the past 2 years, I’ve seen the bad shape some people are because of economic circumstances. In New York especially, it weighed heavily on my heart.  On my daily A-train commute, two or three homeless people would walk through, some asking for money, some in such poor shape that they couldn’t form the words, due to terrets or other mental disorders, and the masses would act as if these people didn’t exist.  Books and cellphones held over their face, only a few would give them pocket change or something from their TJ’s bag, but this passive approach, in the end, doesn’t solve anything. Below, I’ll link the Bowery mission, a place that I personally have walked by dozens of times when I lived in New York, and I know the difference that they make to the city. For every five likes this post gets, I’ll donate $25 to the mission.

Donate to the Bowery Mission:

https://www.bowery.org/donate/

 

The Blue Notes

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The Blue Notes are comprehensive scribblings about today’s Paris and tonight’s Parisienne nightlife.

And they’re written from my perspective:  a writer who doesn’t like Well drinks but likes to drink well (well, most of the time). A Seattle-raised Brooklynite, who somehow ended up in France. And apparently, a loiterer who likes to sit in front of rundown warehouses.

Continue reading “The Blue Notes”

The Bonnie in Astoria: A Log Cabin in the City Bar

IMG_4408New York winters are tame, well, at least they have been since I moved here. Of course, by saying this, I risk being called out by my gf (afrosty apartment is different, ok?). It’s cold here, sure. But after one or two blankets of snow, the streets clear and Brooklyn metamorphasizes back into the unique, beautiful butterfly that it is. New Yorkers jump to all types of conclusions when the weather hits above like 42 degrees.

Honestly, I like wintertime.

Ipuddo’s Shoyu ramen, Raclette,  DOUGH donuts, and recently porridge, are my staples. At night, there’s nothing like a nest for drinks and sub-par trash talk about your roommates. The drinks are important, the trash talk is more important, but the place is, dare I say…sacred.

During one of the two snowstorms this winter, I find myself in the backwoods of Astoria, Queens leading two bankers to a promised land to spend stacks. In the snow, streets seem large, and avenues swell like rivers in the wet season. After a 25-minute walk (5 blocks) we arrive. We’re half frozen and red-faced, but safe in the log-cabin-in-the-city bar: the Bonnie.

Vibe: Lumberjack, Affluent, Warm, 90’s Rap, Notorious

IMG_4409Warmth sets the Bonnie apart. It’s like checking into a Finnish sauna for a couple of hours. Literally, the entire place is built of planks of wood. The four walls, the ceiling, the bar, the table–aka that shit is cozy af.

The people are friendly, the atmosphere is full of warm tones, and you can get some gooey, top-tier mac-n-cheese (with shells).  The ideal setting is in the afternoon, as it’s a place you can post up on a cold day, sip cocktails, nibble on finger food and forget about the dregs of wintertime.

To me, the decorative highlights include the spacing and atmosphere of the different sections within the bar. There are four distinct areas: a lively front bar,  a romantic parlor, an intimate back bar, and a spacious beer tent.  On that snowy day, it felt like a fortress, a respite from the desolate tundra of hipster Queens.

I make the distinction ‘Hipster Queens’, because for a beginner, NYC-Queens really has three different regions.  The 7 Train. Old School Greek-Italian Astoria. And Hipster Queens. (LIC is really an extension of Manhattan). Hipster Queens, to me, feels a lot like the ‘little Seattle’ of NYC. You can find great gastropubs, flannel-shirt people, content-with-where-they-are people, and good coffee, just like in Seattle.

Curiously, Astoria has some of the best restaurants, bars, and places that you’ll find in the city, but you won’t hear about them. The community is modest and close-knit.

Savvy dress-down clothes, a couple of lowlifes and a Saturday is what you need for the Bonnie. It’ll be great you tell yourself–

You may discover poignance in an afternoon where there is no place you’d rather be. Your mind becomes lucid and present. You unwind. You forget about the city life. You lose the concept of ‘waiting.’ Minutes become hours. You may ask yourself, how did I get here? The Talking Heads will play right as you ask yourself this question.

This is an Astoria day, a voice from the darkness tells you. Stay, another whispers, Stay with us. You begin to panic. The N train will be backed up, an uber ride estimate will show up on your screen as $50, Google shows the nearest option is a 40-minute walk. It’s dark. People’s laughter seems to turn towards you. It’s too late. You’re stranded in Queens. But it’s all good!

The Drinks: Seasonal, Craft, Aromatic, Mezcal, Subtle

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Winter Punch #2

The drink menu is a stand-out, certainly one of the best in the neighborhood.  Elegant nuances and complex notes build off of classic cocktails like a well-composed jazz quintet. A large sprig of Rosemary rises from a highball glass.  A dried grapefruit ring drifts on the surface of a rocks glass. A stack of cinnamon sticks, a plume of mint leaves, a bouquet of basil, these arrangements hit you like a loverboy on Valentine’s day.

The cocktail director, Mike Di Tota is the romantic, and yes, he has a background in botany.

A Whiskey drink named: the Pursuit of Happiness, embodies the light, yet addictive sentiment anchored by a historic darkness. To me, the mix of Maker’s Mark, honey and pomplemousse juice is a tad too sweet. So, I rotate after the first, to a heftier drink called Winter Punch #2. Ironically, it is a whiskey drink with honey, and grapefruit (the same thing). However, it consists of a darker whiskey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a twist of lemon juice, which turns it into an aromatic affair. It’s spiced, well-mixed, warming, and what you need on a cold day.

Winter seems to have passed in New York, but the cold, bitter individuality remains in each of us–just kidding…Or am I? I have yet to see if the Bonnie turns into the lush-beach-resort-and-day-spa-in-the-city bar during the summer, but I can leave that to the immeasurable tiki bars that exist year-round.

Con Amor,

Mr. Cohiba

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Suit The Occasion: Astoria Boutiques

Belief: @beliefnyc
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Atlantic Tee – $34
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Parachute Cap – $36 $22
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Midnight Hoody – $68
Other Boutiques in Astoria:
The Stonework: @thestonework
Lockwood: @lockwoodshop