Paris: A Guide to SoPi (South Pigalle)
A stop-by-stop guide to Paris’s hottest neighbourhood.
I learned the hard way that the age of your cab driver will greatly affect the response you get when you ask them to take you to Paris’s South Pigalle neighbourhood. My first ride was from a “seasoned” old soul with enormous sideburns who picked me up outside the Shangri-La Hotel near the very tony 8th arrondissement. I gave him my destination and his equally large eyebrows raised in a universal tsk-tsking gesture at my desire to head to the city’s former red light district. But the next day a young Uber driver had the opposite response. “SoPi, huh?” he said, using the area’s new hipster moniker. “Very cool, very Brooklyn.”
In a city where a neighbourhood can go from dicey, to fashionable, to overexposed in the blink of an eye (the once red-hot Marais is equal parts chain stores and tour buses these days), SoPi is currently the stop of choice for the city’s BoBos (Bourgeoisie Bohemians). It’s just had its first boutique hotel bestowed upon it—the clubby and swank Grand Pigalle; it has the independent fashion store—the eponymously named Pigalle—that does mash-ups with Nike; and it currently boasts what’s allegedly the most difficult nightclub in town to get into—Chez Moune. But SoPi’s defining characteristic is that it has no one sight that attracts tourists. Directly to the north you have the white dome of the Sacré Coeur anchoring the legendary Montmartre neighbourhood. To the south you have the Paris Opera House, but in between the two you have that rarity in Central Paris—an actual neighbourhood where real Parisians, especially those involved in creative pursuits, live and shop and eat in a series of winding cobblestone roads flanked by the beautifully ubiquitous five-storey Haussmannian apartment buildings.
But the world is coming. The neighbourhood not only has a Kiehl’s, but also, as of recently, the even more upscale Aesop—and L’Occitane can’t be far behind. And the charming Rue des Martyrs, which acts as the area’s main drag, is increasingly busy with intruders into the area’s idyll, often wearing those fashionable sweatpants with perfectly white Adidas Stan Smiths. But for the time being (October 2015), the area is where it’s at: a perfect blend of hip and local and irreverent and serious and here’s the playbook for grasping all of it.
SoPi has really embraced the vin naturel (natural wine) movement, which is great if you like the very distinct taste of this style (detractors call it vinegar-esque), but, if not, it’s tough to get a “regular” bottle. The solution is the brand-new L’Atelier des Sommeliers, a shop and tasting bar run by two sommeliers with gold-standard pedigrees (having worked at Paul Bocuse, Taillevent) that has a small but beautifully curated selection of those only-available-in-France bottles that deserve a spot in your Tumi.
Merguez and Pastrami, a brand new haute sandwich restaurant, definitely channels the area’s Brooklyn tendencies (but in the best way). Beautiful bread trapping Moroccan-influenced ingredients in a very smart white-tiled room. Sandwiches are in the 15-euro range.
An acclaimed chef (he worked at Hôtel de Crillon) opens a true bistro on a quiet side street with no fuss and low prices (entrée + plat + dessert = 34 euros): it sounds like a studio pitch, except that it’s Les Canailles, and it’s very real. A gem.
No spot typifies the SoPi renaissance more than Buvette. It has a sister restaurant in New York’s West Village, it’s loved by Le Fooding guide, and it captures that relaxed authentic vibe without being jaded about the entire enterprise. It’s pretty cheap to boot.
Le Macaron, c’est finis. Taking its place is the humble chocolate chip cookie, elevated to haute cuisine levels by a string of new spots like the tiny La Fabrique, where a thin, perfectly constructed cookie that’s moelleux (soft) goes for a pedestrian two euros.
If you just gotta shake it and don’t mind standing in line, then hit Chez Moune. It first opened as a cabaret in 1936, but its current reboot as a no-cover (rare in the City of Light) nightclub is what draws the monster crowds Wed–Sat.
When you’re opening Paris’s premier tiki bar, you probably spend more money on rum than on signage—hence Dirty Dick simply keeping the name of the previous “adult” enterprise, which occupied 10 Rue Frochot. The drinks here—among the best in town—are no laughing matter, and it’s also one of the few places that features beer from the city’s nascent craft brewing scene.
It’s not surprising that the cool neighbourhood has a school maps and taxidermy store, but L’Objet Qui Parle stuns with an amazingly well-priced collection of ephemera just dying to take up residence in some new Gastown restaurant.
Contrary to popular opinion, you can navigate Paris for days without ever running into the famed snooty Frenchman of lore. But if you just need some Gallic disdain then Pigalle, the acclaimed purveyor of sweatshirts that say “Pigalle” on them, is for you. But their goods—they sell snapback hats as well—continue to be de rigueur for those rocking Paris street style, so if that’s you’re jam, then bingo.
A notch up in the price and style range is a local outpost of the ultra-chic Japanese-French collab Maison Kitsuné, which produces basic tees, ties and polos for fashionable fashionistas across the globe. This spot also has a cute little café with much less attitude than the famed KB Cafeshop around the corner.
Arnaud Delmontel is one of Paris’s most acclaimed crafters of baguettes (that’s a very big deal in these parts) and he sells his pricey but beautiful carbs from a small shop on the Rue des Martyrs. Tip: every Thursday from 4–8:30 is baguette happy hour, with each one going for just one euro.
The timeless design of A.P.C. clothing makes it the perfect souvenir of Gallic style. The downside? It almost never goes on sale, which is why the tiny surplus outlet on avenue Andre del Sarte is a godsend—because when a brand doesn’t follow trends, buying last year’s jeans (hint: they look exactly like this year’s jeans) for 50 percent feels tres bien.
When it comes to hotels in former red light districts, one rule is paramount above all else: they better be brand new. The hotel is the brainchild of the team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club, arguably the most influential watering hole in both Paris and London, and the attention to service and detail is as exacting as the perfect Ramos gin fizz. The rooms are small but about a third the price of what they cost near the Champs-Élysées and there appears to be a youthful excitement to the place that’s infectious—the open brasserie and bar on the main floor feels like the sort of place Cara Delevingne or Tony Bennett might drop by for a nightcap.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique
This bizarre little ode to the works of largely forgotten painter Ary Scheffer is a required sojourn for two reasons.
1. It is the best-named museum, ever.
2. The quaint little period building takes about seven minutes to amble through (George Sand’s furniture is here). Afterward, a tea taken in the calm pea-gravel garden is the next best thing to a time machine to inject a little serenity into an otherwise hectic day.