Forget the Michelin-starred restaurants, Paris is all about time-traveling!
1. L’Ecurie: Drinking with Hemingway
58, rue de la Montagne Ste-Geneviève, 5eme
This is my favorite place to get
drunk tipsy on red wine with a good paté de campagne and Steak Frites. I imagine Hemingway would have loved it too. In fact, he only lived around the corner from this little eatery, a former stable on a lovely corner of Rue Montagne Saint-Geneviève– which also happens to be the same street Woody Allen filmed Midnight in Paris (just feet away from where Gil jumps in Hemingway’s car for a time travel to the 1920s).
This lovable family-run restaurant has gone unchanged since god-knows when it opened and feels like the ultimate French time capsule with cow bells hanging from the ceiling, rustic furniture and a traditional no-fuss menu. You can get a three-course lunch here for an astonishing 12 euros and everything is fresh. The bartender/ only waiter is also excellent company if you’re in the mood for a long (and boozy) lunch– he’ll keep filling up your wine glass and eventually lose count himself.
L’Ecurie always reminds me of Hemingway’s quote from A Moveable Feast.
“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”
Opening time: Mon– Sat noon–3pm & 7pm– midnight, Sun 7pm– midnight. Tel: 01 46 33 68 49
2. L’Arbre à Cannelle: The Passages of Time
57 passage des Panoramas
Upon entering the old commercial arcades of Paris, you’ll have the overwhelming and peculiar feeling of being transported straight back to the Belle Epoque. These “passages couverts” were indeed the work of visionary architects at the turn of the 19th century and offered pedestrians refuge from the bustling streets of Paris and revolutionary amenities such as gas-lighting and heating.
They were lined with elegant shops, fashionable eateries, small theatres, reading rooms and even public baths. They were the place to be seen and were the stomping ground of the elegant urban dandies.
Our next Belle Epoque restaurant is set in the city’s second-oldest surviving arcade, built in 1800 and immortalised in Emile Zola’s novel Nana. The frescoes and many of the facades could not be saved over time, except for the original and opulent facade of the restaurant L’arbre a Cannelle at number 57.
The salon de thé has kept its exquisite wood panelling, frescoes and painted ceilings all in tact and is ideal for a light lunch. Choose from delightful salads, quiches, and desserts such as pear and chocolate tart for around €5–7.
Savor the experience because it’s lucky this place even exists. The rise of Paris’s department stores such as Le Bon Marche led to the demise of many of the city’s arcades and countless fell to the wrecking ball under Haussman. Today the Passage Panorama is a quaint and quiet retreat, unlike it’s past heydey.
After lunch, a browse of the shops is a must. Pick up treasures like a signed photo of Ernest Hemingway at the autograph shop and dig through the ‘cabinet of curiousities’, Tombées du Camion at number 47 [literally: fallen off the truck] for 1970s jewellery, antique buttons and novelty items.
Opening time: Mon– Sat 11.30–6pm. Metro: Grands-Boulevards.
3. Bistro de l’Universite: Tartare with a Great Writer of the Lost Generation
I must have passed outside this quaint restaurant a hundred times before I actually tried it. It had spoken to me ever since I read a book called Paris was Yesterday in which the American author Janet Flanner described a small bistrot underneath her apartment in 1920s Paris where she would have lunch and write her articles for the New Yorker. For some reason, the little Bistro de l’Université fit her description for me exactly. So this week, I tried it. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Seated at a table for two by the window, I quickly noticed a small plaque on the wall with a name on it: Henry de Montherlant. A quick Google later on the smart phone and sure enough, I was sitting at the old table of a leading French essayist, novelist and one of the leading French dramatists of the Belle Epoque. Just the kind of side-dish I like to be served in a Parisian restaurant!
Now for the food. I ordered a steak tartare– a staple brasserie dish and in my opinion, the only true way to test the level of cuisine in a French restaurant. It was perfect, seasoned to perfection.
The evening ambience is quiet here but at lunch, this modest-sized restaurant is usually filled to capacity. The mélange of art-nouveau and art deco finishings are unmistakable. Service is also extremely pleasant and professional.
Tel: 01 42 61 26 64
4. Bofinger: The Temple
5-7 Rue de la Bastille, 4eme
We can’t really talk about Belle Epoque dining in Paris without mentioning the temple of Parisian brasserie culture– Bofinger. This historic brasserie is tucked away down a side street, which probably helped it not to become a tourist trap over the years.
The most striking feature of Bofinger, has to be its grand dome in the dining hall which was designed by Gustav Eiffel (yes, as in Eiffel Tower). The brasserie famous for its oysters, onion soup and foie gras has always attracted a clientele of famous French writers, academics and politicians. In fact almost every French president has eaten or eats regularly at Bofinger.
Tel: 01 42 72 87 82
5. Delaville Café: Remembering its roots.
34 boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, 10e
Here’s something different for our list: a trendy restaurant that has integrated its diverse history, into the modern decor. The Delaville Café’s has had many faces. In Napoleon’s Paris it was a brothel, during the Belle Epoque it was a posh eatery and later became a Chine restaurant. Despite catering to a young crowd, this place certainly hasn’t forgotten its history.
We still have the grand staircase, all marble and iron fittings, the impressive mosaics, colonnades, and sculpted wood. The kitchen isn’t winning any awards just yet for mind-blowing cuisine but Delaville is perfect for a light dinner followed by cocktails into the night while soaking up all the history of this fascinating place.
Tel: 01 48 24 48 09
6. Taverne Henri IV: Pont Neuf in the Past
13 Place du Pont-Neuf, Ile de la Cité, 1eme
Just a stone’s throw from the picturesque weeping willow that sits under Pont Neuf bridge and the stunning Place Dauphine, an modest old-style wine bar has hardly changed over the last century. A lunch-time drop in will see this Taverne at its busiest, frequented by lawyers of the nearby Palais de Justice, dependent on a hearty lunch they can trust.image via Trussel.com
You can indulge in wonderfully-priced plates of meats and cheeses, as well as tartines. A favorite of French movie stars of the silven screen such as Yves Montand who dined here with the beautiful Simone Signoret.
Opening time: Mon– Fri 11.30am–9.30pm, Sat noon–5pm; closed Sun & August.
7. Gallopin: The Preservationists
40 Rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 2eme
Parisians can’t resist the charms of this old brasserie that has proudly kept its original brass and mahogany fittings and a beautiful painted glass roof in the back room. From journalists to elegant Parisienne ladies-who-lunch, this place isn’t going out of fashion anytime. Full to the brim at midday, all the French classics are done to perfection– especially the house Foie Gras!
8. Aux Crus de Bourgogne: Sinfully Old French
3, rue Bachaumont, 2emeimage via France-for-Visitors
Smack in the middle of Paris’ most vibrant and up-and-coming neighborhoods, Etienne-Marcel (the new Marais), is a neighborhood gem. With it’s unmistakable art nouveau charm, Aux Crus de Bourgogne is hard for passerbyers not stop and admire. Live in sin here with unforgettable garlic escargots, lobster and foie gras– and perfect for that Frenchy feel without the crappy service.
01 42 33 48 24
9. La Fontaine de Mars: Neighborhood Institution
129 Rue Saint-Dominique 7eme
Standing proud in its picture-perfect location since 1908, La Fontaine is a cozy neighborhood bistro in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower. It has a bit of a claim to fame in that the Obamas dined here in 2009 to sample the south-western French cuisine. But this hasn’t stopped them from being one of the friendliest and attentive old establishments in Paris. Queue the Midnight in Paris soundtrack please.
Tel: 01 47 05 46 44
10. Lapérouse: Hiding the love affairs of the past
51, Quai des Grands-Augustins, 6emeimage via Communes.com
In 1840, this 17th century wine bar was taken over by entrepreneur Jules Lapérouse, who wanted to cater specifically to married gentlemen who wanted to discreetly entertain the Parisian courtesans with champagne and expensive gifts. He installed lavish private rooms for them upstairs and it instantly became an institution and thrived as one of the most fashionable establishments during the Belle Epoque. Still surviving in the attic today are “chambres particuliers”, which can be visited if you ask.
via Critik Paris
The stained antique mirrors still have etchings that according to tradition, where made by the courtesans testing out the authenticity of their diamonds by scratching them on the glass. Sommelier Ian’s knowledge of the wines was unbelievable
A cozy lunch can be had here for prix-fixe menu at €35-€45, either in main dining room or the private salons. Do ask about the wines– the sommerlier’s knowledge will blow your mind.
Okay, okay, ONE More!
11. La Closerie de Lilas
171, Boulevard du Montparnasse, 5eme
I couldn’t do this post without mentioning it! Some things will never go out of style and La Closerie de Lilas fits nicely into that category. The first café restaurant to establish the reputation of Montparnasse during the Belle Epoque, Cezanne, Apolinaire, Hemingway and Fitzgerald were all regulars. Today it is still frequented by the most beautiful minds and faces of Paris. The young Parisian elite come in and out for pre-soirée drinks so you won’t feel like you’re eating in a museum despite it having gone unchanged for over a century.
Some say if you only visit one restaurant in Paris, make it this one. Order the lobster, order the Hemingway fillet, order the oysters– go all out and it will probably be one of the best and memorable meals of your life.
Tel: 01 40 51 34 50
Do YOU have any Belle Epoque suggestions?! Leave them below!