On the Town in the “Real” Neighborhoods of Paris

I live in the 10th arrondissement (district), a trendy but not touristy area near République and the Canal St. Martin. The other night, I was rushing out to meet a friend for dinner. I was a bit behind schedule, and was worried that I’d be late, when I remembered a shortcut that’d get me there faster: I’d take the passages.

Paris has dozens of covered passages that date from the 19th century. These early walkways, which cut straight through the heart of a city block, were like early shopping malls, filled with boutiques, art galleries, and other intriguing little shops. Some, like the ultra-glamorous Galerie Vivienne, are well-known to the world. Others fly under the radar of almost everyone except locals. They’re not necessarily covered nor necessarily elegant. In fact, they can be a little gritty. But, for me, they exemplify “real” Paris.

First, I passed through the Passage du Marché, a short, uncovered passage that leads to the Marché St. Martin, my favorite neighborhood market. During the day, the passage looks rather like an uninteresting alley with many shuttered stores, including one whose name, Jesus Paradis, seems to suggest a storefront church. It’s not: it’s a Brazilian cocktail restaurant-bar that is said to serve the best Caipirinha in Paris. At night, the “alley” is filled with a dozen tables from Jesus Paradis and other bars. On warm nights, it’s so crowded, it’s hard to grab a seat.

Next, I rushed through the Passage Brady and was immediately greeted by the spicy scent of Indian food that set my mouth watering. Built in 1828, this glass-and-steel covered passage is the place to come if you’re in the mood for southeast Asian cuisine. You’ll find several authentic Indian restaurants here, plus a couple of small groceries featuring imported Indian specialties, and shops offering gorgeously bright Indian clothes: kurtas, shalwar kameez, and choli.

After Passage Brady, I found myself on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, which could be called “Little Africa” if anyone would be so inclined. Along this wide street, one can find numerous African groceries, restaurants, cafés, beauty shops, and hair-braiding galleries. But there’s also several theaters on this street and sometimes you see lines down the block, particularly at the famous Théâtre Antoine, which showcases a range of French plays and concerts.

I finally arrived at my destination: rue de Faubourg St. Denis. This always-bubbling street epitomizes the cosmopolitan nature of Paris. Headed by an ornate 17th-century triumphal arch called Porte de St. Denis, you find the best of all worlds here. Traditional Parisian cafés sit shoulder-to-shoulder with kabob-selling Turkish cafés, each with their representative older men smoking either cigarettes or hookahs at the sidewalk tables. The hipsters are here, buying pretty rounds of Brebis (sheep’s milk cheese) at the artisanal cheese shop Taka & Vermo, or a slice of pecan pie at French-American Bakery (FAB).

While decidedly unglamorous, this street has all the classic elements you need for a good life in Paris: flower shops, butchers and fish mongers, a health food store, and a brimming produce market that has such favorable prices, some people bypass markets in their own neighborhoods to shop here. But one of the main attractions of the street is the restaurants.

The historic French restaurant Julien (whose stunning Art Deco interior is a must-see) shares the same building as the well-known Turkish restaurant, Derya. The restaurant 52 Faubourg St. Denis, a modern French place known for its stark concrete walls and compact menu, has been praised as one of the best restaurants in the area. Locals line up for it every night.

I reached my intended eatery, a little burger place called Paris-New York, just as my friend was sitting down at a table outside. I sat across from her, squeezing in between two other people. It was a Wednesday night, but we were lucky to have gotten a table. People were already lining up to wait. We grinned at each other, delighted to be out on the town in Paris.

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