Travel

Paris is the new louche capital of Europe

With life in London feeling distinctly serious right now, the newly loosened-up social scene in Paris feels like a breath of fresh air

Laissez-faire. Louche. Joie de vivre. The vocabulary of a free and easy lifestyle is lifted straight and untranslated from the French, and Paris is the paragon of these virtues. Well-established as the city with the best restaurants, the greatest fashion houses, and unbridled free love, France’s capital has long been the embodiment of the egalité, fraternité and liberté espoused at the heart of the Republic.

Yet, until recently, the city had let its cool go to its head, becoming aloof, and dare we say it, even a little pretentious. But pedestals never last long in Paris; revolutions always come to topple them, and enterprising businesses are rising to shake the status quo.

Take restaurants, for example. ‘Some chefs can be like, “I don’t give a shit about the plate, or the service, I care just about the taste. And you’re lucky to get it”,’ says restaurateur Victor Lugger. ‘Well, am I? Come on, it’s 2019.’ Lugger and his business partner, Tigrane Seydoux, are behind the Big Mamma group, seven Italian restaurants in Paris and a newly opened trattoria, Gloria, in east London’s own Shoreditch. Since they opened East Mamma in the 11ème in 2013, they’ve become the largest employer of Italian people in France, and have the honour of owning the largest restaurant in Europe, La Felicità, with 1,000 covers. And, with people regularly queuing round the block for tables, they’re major disruptors to Paris’ established food scene.

‘In Paris there are so many places with great food but it’s rarely served with a smile,’ says Lugger. ‘There are amazing restaurants that don’t give a shit about design. Or the experience, the music, the atmosphere, the temperature. Eating out is not just about food, it’s the whole experience. If you want me to come on a Saturday evening, it has to be more than just good. It’s my Saturday.’

They’re not the only ones freeing Paris from the tyranny of its own froideur. Harry Vidler is the English chef behind Jones, a neighbourhood restaurant in the 11ème, an area already known for its casual dining. ‘I think it’s very important not to confuse or scare people with your food. I just wanted to cook simple, delicious food that appeals to locals as much as it does to foodies,’ he says. Where he’s led, others have followed – Le Rigmarole, c.a.m., Le Grand Bain, Le Saint Sébastien – ‘They’re all doing something more original and diverse,’ adds Vidler.

In a city of haute cuisine, Seydoux and Lugger are committed to serving quality food in a great atmosphere, at a low price. They brew beer and roast coffee. ‘These are things Michelin-starred restaurants do and they’ll charge you €300,’ shrugs Lugger. ‘We do it and you can eat with us for €25.’

It’s a philosophy felt in Paris’ fashion scene, too. With the emphasis shifting from couture to vintage streetwear styling, you won’t find a Parisian being hoist by their own fashion pétard. Holiday, in Paris’ newly cool 16ème arrondissement, picks up the trend for classic menswear. As well as a shop, it’s also a cafe and magazine – the epitome of how fashion is part of a wider lifestyle choice. Neighbouring Beige Habilleur curates a mix of the formal and casual for a more egalitarian take on quality.

‘Streetwear is the new pop culture,’ says co-founder Basile Khadiry. ‘Our generation are more interested in clothes and brands with a history, without being outdated. People want to buy less but look better.’

Unsurprisingly, booze is what first helped Paris loosen up. Cocktail bar Little Red Door was at the vanguard of the drinks scene when it opened in Le Marais in 2013. ‘We wanted the door to symbolise a space where you could step away from the real world,’ explains Timothée Prangé, the bar’s co-owner. ‘There was immediate curiosity when somewhere new to sip came along,’ adds Rory Shepherd, the head bartender. ‘We want everyone to feel at home while they’re here,’ says Prangé. So much so, the doorman serves drinks to patient punters waiting in the queue.

There’s growing bonhomie in hotels, too. ‘There’s been a lot of new energy in Paris recently, especially in hospitality, and I think that’s only going to continue to flourish and evolve,’ says Sharan Pasricha, CEO of The Ennismore Group, which owns the Hoxton hotel chain. They opened in Paris to seize this zeitgeist.

‘We’re pretty unique here by being a space for both guests and locals to come for dinner, have cocktails or set up camp with their laptop. We have an open-door policy and the local community has fully embraced it – our courtyards are teeming.’

It’s this democratic approach that’s wooing the city’s populace towards a more relaxed style. ‘Parisians have an incredible ingrained culture and they’re so proud of it,’ adds Pasricha. ‘But it’s brilliant to be part of a change in how people interact.’

In true French style, egalitarianism reigns supreme. And the Gallic shrug slowly gives way to a grin.

Where to eat

La Felicità (above) is Big Mamma group’s largest restaurant at Station F, a fun concept on a grand scale. Every member of staff is Italian and the food is sourced directly from Italian producers. lafelicita.fr

Les Grands Verres is a restaurant that opened recently at the Palais de Tokyo with the guys behind the cocktail bar Candelaria. It’s a very modern restaurant with, as you’d expect, great cocktails. palaisdetokyo.com

Le Bistrot Paul Bert in the 11ème is where you should head if you want a perfectly executed traditional French brasserie. instagram.com/bistrotpaulbert

Restaurant Bonhomie is very ‘Modern Paris’: long communal tables, modern cuisine, a strong focus on cocktails (unusual for a Paris restaurant) and natural wines. It’s also open for lunch and dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays, which again is most unusual. bonhomie.paris

Septime is a must if you like something more classic, but arrive at 7pm sharp if you don’t have a reservation: the counter seats are first come, first served. septime-charonne.fr

Where to drink

Little Red Door (above) is a fun and relaxed bar, one of the first to bring Paris’ cocktail scene into the 21st century, with cool concept menus and great drinks. lrdparis.com

Candelaria has a small taco restaurant at the front and then, tucked away behind it, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar. Slightly hidden, it’s a place for those in the know. quixotic-projects.com/candelaria

Le Syndicat’s cocktails are great and the atmosphere is insane, because the team behind it rocks. They love good music, too. Go there for an 80s NYC rap atmosphere with award-winning cocktails. syndicatcocktailclub.com

Septime du Cave is a spin-off from Septime, a more intimate experience in a very small wine bar with a super-chilled vibe and lots of natural wines. septime-lacave.fr

Where to stay

The Hoxton Paris (above) is the most Instagrammed property the group owns — Jacques’ bar, mustard-coloured chairs in the Winter garden, and the grand spiral staircase in the lobby are all eye-catching. thehoxton.com

Grand Powers in the city’s Golden Triangle is contemporary boutique glamour, weaving together the building’s original 1920s Haussmann style with contemporary, bespoke furnishing. hotelgrandpowersparis.com

Hotel Adèle et Jules has recreated the feel of a private family home, with an honesty bar and understated furnishings. hoteladelejules.com