A Boulevard St-Germain landmark, Café de Flore is one of Paris’s most hallowed literary cafés. I adore art deco elegance, but it isn’t somewhere I’d frequent regularly. Not after seeing the prices—$6.86 for a cafe crème, $8.45 for hot chocolate, $11.22 for a small beer. If it’s the hangout of the next Simone de Beauvoir or Picasso, I’d be astonished.
Although a major draw for visitors, Café de Flore marks the city’s artistic and literary past, not its present. When tourists move in, creatives move on. And many have moved beyond the Bastille to the 19th and 20th arrondissements (districts).
In these outer reaches of Paris, France, cafés for philosophical debate and mahjong games have $4 beers on tap. Their cultural spaces for poetry readings don’t come at an eye-watering cost—you can share a bottle of Bordeaux for $17. Music bars throb long into the night to the rhythm of the Balkans and break-your-heart saxophone blues.
Not part of the city until 1860, the 20th is my local neighborhood for a few days. Thirty years ago, it was a working-class stronghold. Although still socially and ethnically mixed, there’s been a transformation in recent years. Now it combines the cutting-edge artsy with the proletarian traditional. The French would call it bobo—short for bourgeois-bohemian.
This isn’t the picture-book, aristocratic Paris beloved by visitors. This is contemporary Paris. I think it seriously rocks—and I haven’t parted with more than $3 for coffee anywhere.
Alexandre Dumas is my local Métro station. It serves what is definitely an up-and-coming neighborhood—one with organic food stores, funky boutiques, concept design stores, candlelit cafés, and Japanese restaurants. Spotting a toyshop wonderland called La Truite Enchantée (the Enchanted Trout), I almost wanted to adopt some children.
No part of Paris can be described as inexpensive, but the 20th is comparatively more affordable than its central arrondissements. Although invariably bijou, studio apartments can be had for under $200,000. For example, a 19-square-meter (204-square-foot) studio for $189,000. It sounds ludicrously small, but all across Paris, numerous vacation rental studios are no larger. Renting for $760 monthly, this one is tenanted until 2013.
Within three minutes’ walk of the metro is the small apartment on rue de Bagnolet—one of the 20th’s liveliest streets—where I’m staying. Although only 32 square meters (344 square feet), it’s a perfect pied-à-terre. The building is a typically Parisian residence where you enter a door digicode and gain access to a courtyard.
With a boulangerie only a few steps away, developing an almond croissant addiction is all too easy. Near the Métro, Le Saint René’s $18 prix-fixe lunch isn’t the neighborhood’s cheapest, but the paté-and-salad starter was delicious. So was the bavette d’aloyau, a thin-cut steak served with irresistible bistro fries. (148, Blvd de Charonne.)
Cultural tastes vary, but rue de Bagnolet’s entertainment options thrill me. Posters advertise comedy shows, as well as art exhibitions and movie nights. Too many cool places to mention here…but in the June issue of International Living magazine I reveal all, including where to stay when you’re in Paris, and my full list of property picks and contacts.