Paris hipsters are heading north. At the foot of Montmartre Hill, a short distance from the touristy Sacré-Coeur Basilica and its picture postcard setting, is one of the most happening areas in the French capital. Welcome to Pigalle! This former red-light district, once home to sex shops, cabarets and hostess clubs, has undergone a transformation over the past few years, so much so that it’s become one of the trendiest spots in the city, on par with the Haut Marais. But it retains a faintly risqué vibe, and you can still turn a corner and come upon a neon sign reminiscent of the area’s raunchy past. More precisely, it’s south of Place Pigalle that hipsters congregate, in what is now known as ‘SoPi’ (for South Pigalle). Their playground is the rectangular area extending from the Blanche and Anvers metro stations to the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and Trinité-d’Estienne-d’Orves stations. With hip boutiques, traditional bistros and classy cocktail bars, this area is one of the liveliest in the city.
Taking a stroll
If you’re looking for a picturesque and peaceful oasis amid the city bustle, head for Avenue Frochot, a timeless, privately-owned cul-de-sac with some gorgeous houses (scary fact: Number 1 is reputed to be a haunted house!). But there are other spots to take a stroll, like the delightful Place Gustave-Toudouze with its row of three little cafés, and Place Saint-Georges, one of the prettiest squares in Paris. And, right in the heart of the Nouvelle Athènes district, the terrace of the café at the Musée de la Vie Romantique is a secret gem: the perfect place for a quiet interlude.
‘SoPi’ is a shopper’s paradise. Fans of fashion, designer objects and interior decoration will be in seventh heaven here. Cult stores include Pigalle, one of the edgiest brands right now. Concept stores are big here, as elsewhere in Paris. Then there’s Mr. Fish, which stocks cool, handpicked designer desirables.
Foodies will head straight for the bustling Rue des Martyrs, which is packed with food shops – bakeries, cheese shops, delis and grocery stores, all totally authentic. Two of the best shops are Arnaud Delmontel and Terra Corsa. On Avenue Trudaine, the Marché d’Anvers outdoor food market is open on Friday afternoons from 3pm to 8.30pm. For speciality foods, try Causses, a shop selling products from small local producers. And, to give your meals an Italian twist, Rap Paris, the Italian delicatessen, is the place to go
Parisians love to meet up at their local bistro for a coffee in the morning or a drink in the evening – which sometimes turns into dinner. And Pigalle has any number of traditional eating places. Mansart, Lautrec and Sans Souci have the feel of old-fashioned cafés and brasseries. The bar-restaurant Artisan is a new-generation neighbourhood café: the perfect place to get together with friends. And if you’re looking for something slightly off-the-wall, try Chez Bouboule, a pétanque bar-restaurant – playing boules is the height of cool in Paris – where you can have a drink or a meal while lobbing your ball at the jack. Definitely different!
At trendy restaurants, the decor is as important as the food. The popular thing to do these days is Sunday brunch – but not just anywhere. Its American equivalent is La Maison Mère, and the charming patio of the Hôtel Amour is where lovebirds take tea for two. Street food too is furiously popular in Paris at the moment, and French-style burgers top the list of favourites. ‘SoPi’ has quite a few places to sample this American staple with a Parisian twist, like Dépanneur and L’Atelier Saint-Georges. And, for a taste of bistro dining, there’s more than one option: quality bistro fare at Richer, a fresh take on classics at Pantruche or Les Affranchis.
The best place to go for a drink in the evening is Rue Frochot, which has a range of bars to suit all tastes. There’s a New Orleans interior at Lulu White, which serves delicious absinthe-based cocktails; a warm, friendly atmosphere and Hawaiian vibe at Dirty Dick. A short distance from here are two not-to-miss watering holes: Pigalle Country Club, a rock bar. Another up-and-coming place is the Wine and Dine bar at the Grand Pigalle Hôtel, with a selection of over 200 wines. The chic, selective Le Carmen is housed in the private mansion where Georges Bizet is said to have composed his famous opera. Featuring chandeliers, mouldings and a grand piano, the interior is nothing short of sumptuous. Sophisticated cocktails are served here, with toe-tapping DJ mixes playing until 6am. For an evening of elegance, head to the Fondation Dosne - Thiers, with the Opera a Palazzo, to discover an adaptation of Verdi's La Traviata, centered on the 3 main characters. Want to hit the dance floor? Local clubbers congregate at Chez Moune, a former lesbian club converted into a discothèque to party until dawn.