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Paris Neighborhood Walk: Abbesses

The neighborhood Metro stop.

Photo: Martin Morrell

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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

Arnaud Delmontel: The 2007 winner of the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris (the best baguette in Paris contest), Arnaud Delmontel’s namesake boulangerie (bakery) frequently has a line of customers extending out the front door. Inside this corner shop—one of Delmontel's three Paris locations—glass display cases are filled with freshly baked bread, fruit-filled croissants, and sweets such as orange vanilla gingerbread. Besides the crisp baguette, the bakery’s signature items include the almond croissant and colorful macarons (meringue-based cookie sandwiches filled with buttercream), available in flavors like champagne, rose, salted caramel, and passion fruit.

Caberet Michou: Head to the base of Montmartre for a taste of Parisian nightlife. Michou, the legendary man behind this retro-styled drag show, has hosted audiences for more than 50 years. As expected, décor is campy (think dim red lighting, mirror covered walls, and glitter). During the dinner show, celebrity doubles take to the stage, while waiter-cum female impersonators serve authentic French fare. Cabaret Michou may not have the name recognition of Moulin Rouge, but it’s predominantly French audience lends itself to a less-touristy experience.

Ets Lion: Reminiscent of a French cottage, this tiny gardening and gourmet food shop is located in the heart of the Montmartre district on Rue des Abbesses. Open since 1895, the old-fashioned shop contains exposed brick walls, worn hardwood floors, and a fireplace topped with candles and set against orange-flowered wallpaper. The front of the store sells potted plants, seeds, and gardening tools, while the back room contains shelves lined with homemade jams, olive oils, mustards, spices, and wines. Glass apothecary jars are filled with salted caramels and freshly baked madeleines, and there’s also a wide selection of Bonnat chocolate bars.

Halle St.-Pierre: Situated at the foot of Montmartre, this iron-and-glass Baltard-style structure was a 19th-century marketplace before it was converted into a cultural center in 1986. The hall is now home to the Musée d'Art Naïf – Max Fourny (Museum of Naïve Art – Max Fourny), which showcases more than 600 works of naïve art dating from the 1970’s. Additionally, the hall contains rotating exhibitions that emphasize unconventional art brut (raw art) by contemporary international artists like Jeff Soto, Elzo Durt, and Anne van der Linden. The center also includes an art-focused library, an auditorium, and a café serving organic coffee and snacks.

Hôtel Amour: This 24-room boutique is a perennial favorite: book far in advance, especially for stays during Fashion Week in October and March. Restaurant scion Thierry Costes and artist and nightlife celeb Mr. André splurged on high-thread-count sheets, Kiehl’s products, and unique design—think jewel-toned lacquer walls, original photography, and collectible toys—while spurning needless amenities for the laptop generation, such as TV’s and phones. Several rooms have bathrooms sans walls, so you should only stay with your closest intimate. A lively bistro—with one of Paris’s most hopping brunches—substitutes for a lobby and acts as an artery for the cool kids enlivening the Ninth Arrondissement.

Hôtel Particulier Montmartre: The five-room Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, on a leafy cobblestoned passageway, is a pint-size hideaway with outsize design. The three-story Directoire façade is pleasingly geometrical—lead urns march up the steps to the front door, which is framed by iron lanterns on brackets. But the artist-designed rooms add unexpected edge. One is wrapped in a photomural of dense branches. Another is dressed entirely in men’s suiting fabrics: a drap de laine bedcover edged in tuxedo satin, pin-striped flannel for a buttoned slipper chair. The garden, full of plush little pockets of ever- green shrubs and trees, is by celebrity landscape designer Louis Benech, who made it feel wild and impromptu—just barely brought to heel.

Spree: A combination clothing boutique and art gallery, Spree is the brainchild of fashion designer Roberta Oprandi and visual artist Bruno Hadjadj. Located in the Montmartre district, the neutral-toned space resembles a classic gallery but contains an unusual mixture of clothing, contemporary art, and vintage furniture dating from the 1950’s to the 80’s (also for sale). Carefully arranged displays feature pieces by both established and emerging designers; for instance, the ever-changing inventory may include Marc Jacobs boots, Isabel Marant jackets, and MM6 jeans, along with artwork by Patrick Messina, Ward Yoshimoto, Léonardo Casali, and co-owner Hadjadj.

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