Kristina Foster shares an insider’s guide of where to stay, shop, eat and party in Paris.
The older we get, the more commitments we seem to have. Partners, children and careers fill our days, leaving little time for other pursuits. If you are resolved to spend more time with the girls in 2014, steal away with your besties for a #YOLO week in Paris.
So you’ve already seen the Mona Lisa, adored the D’Orsay and climbed the Eiffel Tower surrounded by throngs of tourists. Time to go off track and discover an alternative side of Paris with your pals.
Where to stay
Hotel Petit Paris, a few steps from Saint Germain des Prés, is a boutique hotel with a rich Parisian history. During Louis XV’s reign it was an inn inside the city’s ancient walls. Under Napoleon III, it was a family home and, throughout the Belle Époque, it was a second home to the artists of Montparnasse. Sybille de Margerie – also the decorator of the stately Crillon – has created an intimate 20-room hotel that harks back to different epochs of Parisian history. Rise and shine with the elegant breakfast buffet and a big bowl of café au lait in the quaint courtyard for a slow start to a day of indulgence.
What to do
First, there’s shopping. Non-stop designer labels line rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré, and Avenue Montaigne. Looking for a Chanel 2.55 in the color that is sold out absolutely everywhere you have tried? The Parisian branches of heavy duty, designer French brands often have hard-to-find items, usually at a cheaper price than New York, Australia, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The luxury department store Printemps offers tourists an additional 10% off many items in addition to the 19% VAT refund. Fashionistas flock to the Isabel Marant section of Printemps for the pared-down price tags.
For a more unique shopping experience, check out the cutting-edge local designers like Lea Peckre, a young 29-year-old with a dark architectural aesthetic, or Veronique Leroy, trained by Azzedine Alaia with a collection that combines both the seductive and brainy. For an uncommon evening gown worthy of jazz diva Billie Holiday, look over the gorgeous, shiny frocks of YDE.
For a touch of tongue in chic, Naco-Paris, an indie street designer, has been described by the French press as fashion’s Robin Hood with his minimalism and punk attitude that often denounces the consumption craze promoted by the luxury industry.
The local brand, EACH X OTHER, has a rough-luxe unisex wardrobe and collaborates with community artists, designers and craftsmen to play with each piece through finishes: graphic prints, painting, poems and imagery. The artist signs every t-shirt, sweater and jacket.
On a Sunday morning, do as Parisians do, and head for the flea market Les Puces de Saint-Ouen at Porte de Clignacourt for a treasure trove of vintage clothing, antique knick-knacks and random curiosities.
Finished with fashion? Deyrolle is a very unusual Left Bank taxidermy shop on Rue du Bac. The ground floor looks like an ordinary garden store (despite the stuffed gazelles standing on their back legs and dressed like humans). Walk up the stairs and feel transported back to 1881 with the chaotic, crammed cabinets of stuffed animals of all shapes, sizes and poses from penguins to zebras.
Pop your head into Roses Costes Dani Roses and deeply inhale. This impressive little shop is the Hôtel Costes boutique dedicated to roses and Karl Lagerfeld’s favorite florist. The store was inspired by Joséphine Bonaparte, the first Empress of France, who created an epic rose garden in the 1800s.
Tired of shopping? How about freshening up with a collection of contemporary art. If you have already trawled the main galleries at the Louvre and have been impressed to the gilt at the D’Orsay, go the road less (tourist) traveled and take in some of the city’s very progressive contemporary art galleries and breakthrough temporary exhibitions.
Within the Louvre, temporary exhibitions, such as Michelangelo Pistoletto’s neon word art on medieval walls can awaken tired thoughts. The current Dries van Noten retrospective at the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs perplexes and inspires. The new gallery spaces Le Bal and La Gaite Lyrique boldly showcase contemporary photography, video and new media technologies from around the world. On a Saturday night, La Gaite Lyrique is open until 8pm and heaves like a hipster hangout bar.
Where to Eat
Paris is one of the world’s great foodie capitals and, whatever your budget, lunch with girlfriends while savoring some of the local culinary pleasures is what life is all about.
Proprietor and chef José Da Rosa of Da Rosa Delicatessan and Café traveled the world to find Iranian caviar, Iberian ham, foie gras and truffles fit for a king. So fine is the standard of his edibles, Da Rosa supplies some of the city’s most illustrious establishments including Le Meurice, Hotel de Crillon and Joel Robuchon. Foie gras aficionados, don’t miss out. This fattened goose liver is rumored to be the best in town.
La Société, another taste bud-tickling hot spot from the Costes family, is an expansive restaurant-cum-jazz bar with contemporary interiors designed by Parisian design stalwart, Christian Liaigre. Recently spotted dining at La Societe: the Fendi family, Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana and sexy French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. This hip hangout has both intellect and beauty.
Derrière, a haute restaurant in the Marais is a favorite of the impeccably styled. Huddle around the crowds on the sidewalk and shuffle through a non-descript doorway to enter Paris’ most whimsical eatery. The two-story building has been transformed from a former sweatshop into a fashionista’s lair. Laid-back French filles don vintage gowns with motorcycle boots as they flirt over the ping pong table. Bow-tied, Dior Homme-wearing frères shimmy behind an antique armoire to light up in the secret smoking room. Narrow stairs lead to a warren of little rooms, including a bourgeois bedroom where diners sit along the edge of a mattress as they peck at the black carrot and coriander salad or the roasted farmer’s leg of pork.
Where to party
In Paris, the best clubs don’t start filling up until after midnight, and stay open until the sun rises. So kick up your heels until the Metro starts running again at 5:30am, then stumble back to the hotel. Wear your most comfortable pair of dancing shoes and get ready to party into the wee hours of the morning.
At Le Regine’s on rue de Ponthieu, herds of hipsters, models and art-school Parisians in shrunken jackets and nostalgic t-shirts queue up to get their well- heeled feet into the door. Behind the hype, the club has an excellent roster with world-class DJ’s playing clever electro and quirky live bands.
For the eclectic and curious, The Social Club hosts DJ’s, concerts, after shows and exclusive live band recordings. The committed artistic programming team takes the club’s line up very seriously and always provides forward-thinking music choices every night.
The New Morning is the most reputed jazz-club in France where jazz maniacs come to drink, talk, and groove. Spike Lee and Prince have been spotted sliding into one of the shadowy corners. Jazz luminaries Chick Corea, Jerry Gonzalez, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ella Fitzgerald have all performed at this out-of-the-way club.
Formerly the French composer Bizet’s opulent rococo residence, Le Carmen is kooky and very original. The creative cocktails draw in a swanky crowd to its high ceilings, salon beds and gilded cages. The vibe is fun and laidback with a diverse program from classical concerts to live reggae to old school hip hop.
Club Sandwich is an iconic shindig if you crave going to a good old-fashioned, gay underground club with foxy drag performances. Club Sandwich is organized once a month, usually on a Sunday night. It’s a stylish crowd, mostly gay but with a smidge of chic, fashion it-girls.
Lastly, grab a bottle of champagne and head to the Tuileries to watch the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower as you toast to good times with friends.