by Danielle Robles
I can still recall the time the Seine and I first met. It was post college graduation. I had saved up enough money to take the trip I had been dreaming about pretty much my entire life. Not knowing much about the City of Lights, I foolishly booked an expensive hotel on the Champs-Élysées, and sauntered the tourist route. It was mystifying, no doubt, but I couldn't help but wonder if I had taken the wrong path. The pricey restaurants and the sleazy clubs that lined the most trafficked parts of town felt inauthentic. And while the vivacious vibrations of the city felt nothing short of magic, I knew that I was merely scratching the surface. This was not the Paris I had daydreamed about. That, I was certain.
I wasn't until almost a decade later, for my (second) 30th birthday I decided to return. And although I brought with me a jolly gang of first-timers, I was determined to forge a new path. This time, I would experience Paris like the locals do. No tourist haunts, no cheap thrills. I wanted the underground experience--and I wanted it full throttle.
So, after a slew of research, and chatting with local-bred friends, I decided to embark on the semi-solo mission of living like a Parisian. Holy hell, it was so much better than expected.
So without further ado, I present to you, my outsider's inside guide to one of the most popular locales in the world. Now, THIS...is my kind of Paris.
WHERE TO EAT
Breizh Café: Among the hipster-lined streets of the uber chic Marais neighborhood lies a quaint cafe boasting some of the most mouth-watering delicacies I've ever experienced. Specializing in galettes de blé noir (aka buckwheat crêpes) it's not hard to see why cool couples queue up at the Breizh Café door every morning. My personal favorite thing on the menu, the galette with ham and onions poached in cider. Trust me, you need this in your life ASAP.
Le Bistro des Augustins: This was one of my favorite random finds in Paris. After getting caught in rainstorm while cruising the Seine, my crew was forced to concede to Yelp to find shelter and a bite. This magical little cafe sits among the flashy tourist traps while serving some of the most ridiculous gratin my tastebuds have ever met. The portions were heaping and creamy, the prices were affordable, and the service was the best we experienced the entire trip. This is a must if you're in the area.
WHERE TO DRINK AND DANCE
Le Comptoir Général: A true gem in Canal St Martin, this caravanserais-inspired bar is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Upon entrance you're instantly transported to another time and place with the locale's lush greenery and tropical vibes. Several tiki bars sit beneath straw huts, surrounded by a restaurant, dance floor, and boutique thrifting found objects and African goods. Definitely the coolest bar in the neighborhood by far.
La Java: We spent many a nights at the dimly lit dance club. Memories I will never forget. Some really great underground DJs run through here, and the vibe is really all about the music. This is the venue you want to hit up if you want to dance like no one's watching. Because, likely they're too busy busting moves too.
Le Moonshiner: This speakeasy isn't the easiest to find, it sits behind a refrigerator door in the back of a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. But it is one of the chicest, low-key date spots in the city in my opinion. The cocktails are strong and made with love by the handsomest of mixologists and the ambiance rivals that of 1920s Paris. I mean, honestly, what more can a gal want in a life?
WHERE TO SHOP
Vintage Désir: While the Marais boasts the chicest cult favorite boutiques and brands, my favorite find was Vintage Désir. Every one-of-a-kind piece I found that afternoon was between 5 and 15 euro, and pretty much everything there was to-die-for. If there was ever one distinct moment I realized that Parisians were just naturally more stylish than everyone, it was the moment a 10-euro '80s jumpsuit and I first met.
There a lots of other cool places I stumbled upon while strolling around the streets, but I shall leave those finds for another time. If there was one key takeaway I got from this trip, it was that the locals know better than any other guide, so get out there, make some new friends, and explore Paris the way it was meant to be explored.