Ever been out in Paris at night and had the distinct feeling that somewhere, something wonderful is happening? Footloose and fancy things, wildness and magic – tantalisingly just out of our reach, behind an imposing Art Nouveau door?
Parisian nightlife is that most elusive of creatures. Parisian and artist Marin Montagut has written and illustrated Bonsoir Paris (Flammarion, 2016), a beautiful little nightlife guide in which he reveals and illustrates the best things to do in Paris at night, secretive and magical after-dark spots which only Parisians know about. Here he gives us 10 of his favourites.
1. Find a secret night garden in Montmartre
Through a private passage lies a secret countryside in the city. HÔTEL PARTICULIER MONTMARTRE is set in a fabulous 19th-century family residence in one of the most tantalising neighbourhoods of Paris, and welcomes a select crowd to relax under the trees and in its underground LE TRÈS PARTICULIER bar with an Americano- and absinthe-based Laura Palmer cocktail. A magical night for friends and lovers alike.
2. Stumble across a back-room speakeasy
Head for the back of this 11th-arrondissement pizzeria and into the (former) cold store to reach MOONSHINER, a candlelit speakeasy. Order a Vieux Carré and have a crack at the combination safe in the smoking room (if it opens, the bottles inside are yours).
3. Go for a midnight swim
What could be more divine than a midnight swim in the heart of Paris? In the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement, PISCINE PONTOISE is a public swimming pool but completely magical, in a listed Art Deco building, with rows of vintage changing cabins, water that is illuminated with blue lights at night, and a non-stop after-dark soundtrack. You’ll love it so much that you could swim here all night, every night.
4. Swing from the chandeliers
Paris’s most high-end no-holds-barred Eyes-Wide-Shut-style club, LE MASK, may see you swinging from the chandeliers alongside modern-day Casanovas. Decadence and anonymity are guaranteed – masks are de rigueur (not least to protect its more well-known customers).
5. Sleep in a former brothel
Jacques Garcia’s magic touch transports us to seventh heaven at HÔTEL MAISON SOUQUET, a former brothel-turned-hotel, with rooms named for its former ladies-in-residence. Try a game of chess in the drawing room or enjoy the pool and sauna in the basement (also available for exclusive private parties).
6. Head to a literary salon
Bookstore-cum-café LA BELLE HORTENSE is a rare treat – at times a peaceful haven and at others buzzing with an interesting crowd. Perfect for when you want to sip a decent glass of wine, dip into a book, grab a late bite to eat, or buy a fine cru after hours.
7. Be transported to a hidden mezcaleria
The 1K Hotel has a hidden bar. Follow the masked wrestler or Latina beauty out back and through the kitchen to LA MEZCALERIA DU 1K. Listen to salsa and Mexican house while sipping an El Chilcano – Peru in a glass!
8. Eat meat all night
Late-night revellers, young and old, know Denise Benariac. For 42 years she has sated nocturnal hunger pangs with her baked escargots, terrines, beef ribs, and succulent rum babas, served on traditional red-checkered tablecloths at her late-night restaurant CHEZ DENISE À LA TOUR DE MONTLHÉRY, a late-night, old-school Les Halles meat joint that’s like a step back in time.
9. Discover Paris’s top-secret bar
A secretive venue straight out of a novel by Patrick Modiano, LA MAIN FOLLE is possibly the best secret bar in Paris. The regulars – an interesting mix of French senators and locals – come for the charming interior and dependable, classic cocktails.
10. Go for barbecued frog’s legs
Colonial style and a New Orleans atmosphere rule the speakeasy-like FLOYD’S BAR & GRILL, with its vast, leafy restaurant tucked away at the back of a discreet-looking bar. The menu is Franco-American fusion: BBQ sauces and buffalo frog’s legs. Wonderful every time.