There’s a point when going back gets dull, where revisiting the places that made you you become places for other people to find. Paris in the springtime is no longer the Paris of our honeymoon twenty years ago or my first stab at total independence as a 17 year old au pair or the countless weekends in between where we showed the kids the places that had made the city ours. This time it’s a place to get lost, 30 hours of following a lead from a bloke in a bar, a stray thought that leads to a Google, a weekend of seeing where we end up.
And to start, a mystery trip. Jed and I have taken turns to whisk each other off on city breaks since before we were married. Seville in spring, Rome when the Pope died, Budapest in -20 degrees. We’ve told each other to turn left when the other was set on the road ahead and ended up in silent snow resorts in which neither of us ski. We used to lead each other through airports blindfolded in the days before Easyjet and online boarding, and dare each other to get to our destination without finding out where we’re going. Instead of guessing where, the game is about being the best at avoiding the answer.
And so to Paris and a stroll through le Marais, a neighbourhood we’ve lusted over for years, but barely knew. We stopped for lunch at what Time Out told us was the best falafel house in Paris, l’As de Fallafel. It was closed. Of course it was; it wasn’t not only Shabbas but Pesach. The place around the corner was rammed, and if it was good enough for the non observing folk of Le Marais (and a thousand tourists), it was good enough for us.
So Time Out ditched, what to do with our 30 hours in Paris? Our facebook friends, thrilled by the romance of our latest mystery trip, were full of suggestions when we posted clues of where we were. ‘Make sure you get to Sunset Sunside’, said one of our more discerning friends of the jazz club at Chatelet. We checked who was on. We’d missed Dylan Howe by a night. Someone who had a famous father was on, but at 30 euros a pop, we chose to wander into the night through the streets to the north of le Marais to Les Bains Douches.
This brand new swanky dining room, hotel and bar was the scene of a 1980 Bunnymen gig I’d been to when I first came to Paris, so Google had told me when I’d followed a hazy memory back in the hotel room that afternoon. Newly opened and the Parisian launch venue for ’50 Shades’, it had just too rich a history to ignore. As the Beautiful People began to drape themselves over the horseshoe bar, I asked the cocktail waitress to do something fabulous with vodka. She listed the home-made raspberry and kaffir lime cordials, the syrup and vodka (Belvedere) before adding the champagne… And not just any old champagne; Perrier Jouet, the spirit of louche elegance that Les Bains Douches symbolised .
A bloke across the bar with an amused smile had got our number. It’s ok to be an imposter in a place like Les Bains Douches, and Jed’s individual style had already excused us. And as we got chatting, our plan for the night was set. Originally from Cheshire, Miguel was an itinerant local. A couple of years in LA, Madrid, Paris, his life was about finding the best places to hang out in the cities of the world. I got my note book out.
We were off to Frenchies Wine Bar, first on Miguel’s list of must dos. Frenchies Wine Bar and its super-cool restaurant of the same name are owned by ‘Frenchie’, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen protege, Gregory Marchand. While the restaurant is a no-go unless you’ve booked six months in advance, the wine bar is just enough off the radar to pack in an endless stream of sexy young Parisiens and cool tourists who’ve probably shared a vodka with Miguel. I’m not going to make this easy for you. I’m not telling you where to find Frenchies Wine Bar. Why would I? I’d never get in again. I’d never taste that sublime parpadelle with lamb ragu and feta again, or that buttery gnocchi with pesto.
Miguel may have stayed on at Les Bains Douches, but after such a good tip, he was our guide for the night. The best bar in town, a room behind a taco bar was the next on his list. I’m exhausted at the memory of traipsing through the streets around Rue de Bretagne in pursuit of Candelaria. Click here to find out why.
A morning walk from Hotel Notre Dame across the river to saunter through the Tuileries as all lovers should led us to the last on Miguel’s list and back to Rue de Bretagne. Le Marche des Enfants Rouges is Paris’ oldest covered market with a cornucopia of pop up feasteries serving the best tagines outside Marakech. The smell of fresh fish, dates and almonds, tahini and freshly baked bread was a heady mix and reminded me of the Parisian love affair with food I’d found when I first lived here as a teenager.
Soaking up the springtime sun, we pondered how to spend our long, lazy afternoon. Ok, so we cheated and had a sneaky peek at Time Out again only to find that ‘David Bowie Is..’ the V&A exhibition we only saw as a film was at Parc de la Villette. As we headed north into the banlieues tourists fear to tread, we found local Sunday life in Paris, parents idly reading papers, drinking vin rouge and checking the football scores while kids kicked balls and cycled with stabilisers and without around its enormous space. The vague thud of Jean Jeanie called us over to the kind of architecture that only Paris would commission for a giant playpark, and the rest of our afternoon was sorted. Bowie in Paris in the April sunshine. I was lost.