The first time I visited Paris, I was 17 and fell for our hotel’s bellhop. He drove a wide-eyed me around on his scooter, ending at the sparkling Eiffel Tower. I fell in love with the city, but didn’t return until over 10 years later with my husband. Now, I visit the city of love and light every time I get a chance. I’ve visited recently as a married lady, a solo traveler, and with a girlfriend — and every time, Paris is different. In a city so big, so vibrant, and so beautiful, you’ll discover something for every mood. This is my Paris.
If you’re alone, you will have a wonderful time. Paris was my first solo international trip. I’m a shy violet, so the moment the nice people at Air France closed the boarding door, I panicked. Predictably, I ended up making some of my favorite Parisian memories on that trip. Navigating the dining scene tout seule can be intimidating, though, and I certainly had some misses among the hits. These are the hits:
Vivant Cave: This is the more casual spot next to the sit-down restaurant Vivant (I love that the French do this style so well.) I walked in here, just off the plane, as nervous as possible. My nerves dissipated almost immediately. Chef Svante Forstorp cooks to order behind the bar, and he’ll talk to you — in English, if you want — the entire time. Sip through a casual wine pairing, chosen from the huge selection of wines displayed in the restaurant and available for sale.
Clamato: Related to the amazingly perfect Septime (more on that later), Clamato serves a seafood-based menu Wednesdays through Sundays. This restaurant does not accept reservations and has a large bar area, both conducive to visiting alone. Plus, they’re open from lunch through dinner on Saturday and Sunday, which is oh-so-rare in Paris. Oysters, anchovies, fried fish, crudo… everything here is stellar. The only problem: the “shareable plates” trend is challenging to navigate when you’re on your own, and this spot is too good to not eat at least three dishes. Prepare yourself.
Little Red Door: I ended up at this cocktail bar after a particularly off-putting solo dining experience at a restaurant that shall not be named, and immediately felt at home. It’s best to go solo on slower nights — when it gets crowded you might need to wait for a seat, and that’s no fun, even on a picturesque Haut Marais street. First, you’re greeted within five seconds of walking through the door. (That would be the “hidden” door to the left of the namesake little red door in front of you.) Second, the staff is friendly, welcoming, and conversational, crafting masterful cocktails with just the right amount of flair (so French.) And third, everything, everything, on the drinks menu is spectacular. Order from the menu, order off the menu, talk about your favorite drink, your favorite bar, your hometown, anything. Just beware: you’ll want to try every cocktail, and even though they’re responsibly-sized, you’ll feel it after three or four (and a shot, and a coupe de champagne, and some Pernaud…)
If you’re feeling social, with a group or just a friend, these lively spots are the way to go.
Jones Café is a place I’m going to recommend to you having never experienced it, but stay with me. Jones is the recent rebrand of beloved Paris favorite Bones, where I had (among other things) an excellent prix fixe dinner at the bar. The space is raw and welcoming at the same time, and the service is friendly. Go for shared plates at lunch or dinner.
À la Folie: Friends and I discovered this gem one evening before a music festival in Parc de la Villette. The park itself is worth a visit — it’s full of great culture, including the new Philharmonie de Paris and bright red folies — architectural works of deconstructivism (so French. Love it.) Inside the park, you’ll find À la Folie, a former fast-food structure turned elegant hang-out space. À la Folie is a lot of things — a place to relax under the trees (in the most comfortable giant bean bags of your life), a place for young families during the day, a place to enjoy relaxed, yet expertly delicious food, and a loud dance party at night. Even the bathrooms are super funky.
Les Niçois is a restaurant that turns into a bar at night, complete with a late-night, raucous crowd. Drinks are good, the crowd is loud and fun, but the best part is the pétanque downstairs. Pétanque is sort of like French bocce ball, with smaller, heavier balls and slightly different rules. It is also the most fun when played surrounded by competitive drunken Frenchmen.
If you’re feeling romantic, but aren’t one for stereotypical “romantic places in Paris,” here’s where I recommend:
Septime is as good as everyone says it is. I’d feel guilty recommending this, but the secret’s been out for a while. Reserve a table for lunch when the light inside the restaurant is perfect, and order the carte blanche — five courses of wonderful. (You can order a la carte, too, but, why would you?) The food is fresh and farm-to-table. I had perhaps the best cheese course of my life at Septime a few years ago.
Le Mary Celeste doesn’t fit the typical “romantic restaurant" label, but, as mentioned, I’ve never been one for stereotypes. Pop into this casually awesome spot without reservations (they take them, but only for non-prime times and reserve the majority of the tables and bar spots for walk-ins.) Enjoy fresh cocktails, well-edited wine selections, and shareable small plates by flickering candlelight.
Le Servan: Call to reserve for lunch or dinner at Tatiana Levha’s ingredient-driven French restaurant. The interior is clean and cozy, a proper nod to the refined but brightly focused food. (I love it so much, I use an image of the interior as my phone’s lock screen.) Order one of everything and share.
Photos: Flickr/Joe Parks, Kristen Hawley, @lrdparis, @lesnicois