Unlike London and New York, Paris has been a bit slow to catch on to the hidden bar concept. Slowly but surely, however, a few of these speakeasy-esque, prohibition-inspired drinking spots have sprung up around the French city. On my short trip to Paris, I managed to visit three very different bars – so different, in fact, that the only thing they have in common is how tricky they are to find. And the alcohol, of course.
Le Comptoir Géneral (aka the Ghetto Museum)
80 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris, France
Like any self-respecting hidden venue, Le Comptoir Géneral gives no indication from the street that it exists at all. In fact, on the evening we approached, the only clue was the small queue on the pavement outside (they have a one in, one out policy to stop overcrowding). Once you’re ushered through the street door, you have to walk along a broad alleyway before reaching the entrance to the bar itself.
Actually, to call Le Comptoir Géneral a bar is to sell it short. It’s a bar, café, restaurant, shop and self-described art museum dedicated to ghetto culture and inspired by Africa in particular.
During the day, a vintage shop is found up the rickety staircase behind the bar in the Ballroom and customers can sip on a coffee from a small stand as they browse. At night, a restaurant is found to the left of the entrance and the place becomes a bar serving delicious rum cocktails.
It’s hard to do full justice to the interior; it’s like a sprawling mansion belonging to an eccentric but incredibly cool hoarder. Various areas of each of the rooms are roped off to display tattered objects like museum exhibits – a stack of vinyl records, an antique world map, pictures of dictators, a pile of vintage cameras. Vines hang from the ceilings. A fish tank functions as a small cocktail bar. Soul music blasts from the speakers. Everywhere you turn, there is something new to catch your eye.
It is impossible to resist and my new favourite place in Paris.
5 Rue Sedaine, 75011 Paris, France
Finding Moonshiner requires a certain level of confidence. In order to get there, you have to walk into the innocuous-looking restaurant Pizza Da Vito and stroll through the walk-in fridge. Naturally, then, you’d better be pretty damn sure you’re in the right restaurant, or you’ll be spending your evening cowering behind lumps of meat, rather than sipping on cocktails.
Luckily for me, I had a local to lead the way.
Due to the current shortage of ‘secret’ bars in Paris, the novelty of Moonshiner makes it incredibly popular. This means that you have to be prepared first to elbow your way to the bar and then to stand around with your drinks, especially later in the week. If you’re a smoker, you may be able to get a seat in the fumoir, where you can puff away to your hearts content.
Despite the crowd, it’s worth a visit for the art deco vibe, friendly bar staff and potent cocktails (the drinks menu may be pricey but they’re definitely not stingy with the alcohol).
One for the whisky lovers in particular – there’s a whole page of the menu dedicated to this particular drink.
Caveau de la Huchette
5 Rue de la Huchette, 75005 Paris, France
Le Caveau de la Huchette looks pretty uninteresting from the outside. That, coupled with the €10 entry charge and the fact that we were headed there to listen to my sister’s tutor’s husband’s band (a tenuous connection) did not fill me with confidence.
It does one good to be proved wrong every now and then.
Upstairs is a quiet (read: dull), run of the mill bar. Downstairs is a swinging jazz club. Small chairs and tables stand against the exposed stone walls and every night a jazz band performs on the small stage. Wear comfortable shoes – dancing is highly encouraged.
When we went, the room was packed with couples spinning around the dance floor. We were the youngest people there. Did we care? Mais non.