Bastille: Relaxed and cool
The district’s chequered population is made up of working class people, bourgeois bohemians and an arty crowd.
Situated at the crossroads of the 4th, 11th and 12th arrondissements, Bastille has a multi-faceted make-up: working class, bobo and artsy. Bursting with cafés, bars and restaurants, it is known for its lively nightlife scene. Though some Parisian scenesters have deserted the area in recent times, Bastille has given itself a makeover and is back on trend.
Eating well is easy in the vicinity of Bastille. The area between the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine and Rue de Charenton is home to one of the most traditional markets in the city: the Marché Beauvau, better known as Marché d’Aligre. Working class folk mingle with bourgeois bohemians at this covered market with street stalls around it. The area has numerous food shops: the Langlet-Hardouin cheese shop (which stocks no fewer than 80 varieties of goat cheese), locally made oils at Sur les quais, coffee merchant Café Aouba, where you can sit and drink an espresso, and even a meat-free butcher shop, La Boucherie végétarienne, selling delicious meat substitutes made from vegetarian paste. Other not-to-miss shops: gluten-free grocery Bears & Raccoons and Paris Saint Bière, stocking hundreds of beers. The best place for a sandwich is definitely Chez Aline, a tiny restaurant in a former horsemeat butcher shop, where you can order that simplest of French classics, a ham and butter sandwich, to eat in or take away.
Need a shot of culture? Bastille also has many busy art galleries such as Arts Factory, Less Is More Projects and the cosmopolitan Dorothy's Gallery. Along Avenue Daumesnil, 50-odd ateliers are tucked away under the arcades of the Viaduc des Arts. The place is well worth visiting for insights into all kinds of different crafts. If you’re shopping for art, go to the Marché Art et Création Paris-Bastille, which takes place every Saturday on Boulevard Richard Lenoir.
This area of eastern Paris is a hub of new-wave gastronomic food; many high-profile young chefs have opened restaurants in Bastille and around. Treat yourself to a Michelin-starred meal at Septime (one Michelin star); check out Australian chef James E. Henry’s smart bistro Jones, sample fusion cooking from a former candidate on the Top Chef TV show at Pierre Sang in Oberkampf and enjoy inspired neo-classical fare by the Levha sisters at Servan.
Bastille really comes to life after dusk. There are bars for all tastes: a bistro ambience in the ‘coquetel’ (French Canadian spelling of ‘cocktail’) bar À la Française and a speakeasy feel at Moonshiner, hidden behind the walk-in fridge of a pizza place. For a multitasking evening out, head for the The Lab, where you can have a haircut while you sip a cocktail. Among Rue Oberkampf’s array of pavement-occupying bars and eateries, the historic Café Charbon and wine bar Aux Deux Amis are worth mentioning.
Step back from the bustle of Paris and savour some peace and quiet on the Bassin de l’Arsenal, a short walk from Place de la Bastille. Once a commercial port for the loading and unloading of goods, it is now used by pleasure craft. With its terraced garden, it is a pleasant spot to sit and relax, have a stroll and watch the boats. Alternatively, you can head from Place de la Bastille to an unusual green space: the Promenade Plantée, also known as Coulée Verte René-Dumont. Running through the 12th arrondissement along a disused railway track, this elevated path more than 4km long, punctuated by tunnels and viaducts, is a wonderful place to walk amid lush and varied greenery.