Paris: Les Abbesses
At some point, most visitors to Paris pass through Montmartre, the terribly quaint village set on a hill in the city’s northern 18th Arrondissement. They head to the Sacré Coeur Basilica, erected between 1875 and 1914 atop Roman ruins, and the neighboring Place du Tertre, even though bohemian Paris was long ago chased out of that area by paint-by-numbers artists and other tourist schmaltz. But just a few hundred feet downhill, in the Abbesses quarter, a more authentic kind of charm is still alive. Sure, its winding cobblestoned streets have been slicked up by trendy boutiques over the past 10 years (when gentrification really kicked in), but the tinny little merry-go-round in the Place des Abbesses remains the neighborhood’s nucleus, and the surrounding lanes are lined with vegetable stands and open-air cafés. The spirit of the area that once housed Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Raoul Dufy hasn’t completely died. Prim old ladies, jocular bistro owners, a stray drag queen or two—everyone knows everyone in Abbesses, and unlike in Paris’s chillier, more bourgeois neighborhoods, here they say “hello.”—Alexandra Marshall
Though technically in St.-Georges, the affordable Hotel Amour is a cornerstone for area cool kids. On the other side of Sacré Coeur is the Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, a luxe new hotel with five suites decorated by artists and designers.
Around the corner from the touristy cafés on the Rue des Abbesses is the excellent Café Burq, with a nontraditional menu and bargain wine list. La Mascotte dishes up some of Paris’s best fruits de mer and sole meunière. The seemingly humble boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel won the 2007 prize for Paris’s best baguette.
Visiting American fashion editors can’t get enough of Spree, a clothing boutique crossed with a Midcentury Modern furniture gallery. The flowers outside the gardening and sweet shop Ets Lion are welcoming enough. Inside, salted caramels and boxes of calissons (chewy Provençal almond confections) beckon as well.
The collection of contemporary Outsider art at the fin-de-siècle Halle Saint Pierre is a respite from the stuffiness of Paris’s major museums. Don’t pass up a visit to the legendary drag cabaret and supper club Chez Michou, owned by the inimitable Monsieur Michou, who is the closest thing the neighborhood has to a nonviolent Don Corleone.