Bohemian Parisian Haunts
Published: May 2011
By Kristin Hohenadel
On a nocturnal tour of Paris's Montmartre neighborhood, moody singer-songwriter Keren Ann reveals the bohemian side of the vibrant city she calls home.
Keren Ann epitomizes the multicultural modern nomad: born to a Javanese-Dutch mother and a Russian-Israeli father, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter settled down in Paris at age 11. These days, the artist splits her time between Paris and New York, and even wrote her last album, the melancholy Nolita, as a tribute to her adopted city; for her, Manhattan is the other pole in a bicontinental urban existence. "You don't have to belong anywhere to belong in New York or Paris," she says. "Every street corner is recognizable from cinema. The ambience, the vibe—everything is so familiar." Still, Keren Ann has remained loyal to the village-like neighborhood of Les Abbesses in Montmartre for the past eight years. Recently, T+L trailed the singer through a typical evening in her Parisian life.
5:45 P.M. A night in Paris may as well begin among the dead—at the Cimetière de Montmartre (20 Ave. Rachel; 33-1/ 53-42-36-30), one of Keren Ann's must-see city haunts. "Dalida and many artists are buried here," she says, leading the way across the Pont Caulaincourt in the rain. "At no time is it spooky. There's a nice energy, and the stained glass is really beautiful in the daylight."
6:45 P.M. Moving at a Parisian-quick trot past the movie-set cafés on the Rue des Abbesses, we stop at La Mascotte (52 Rue des Abbesses; 33-1/46-06-28-15), an unassuming brasserie with old wall tiles and a Bordeaux-themed clock, for belon oysters and a glass of chilled Macon. She smokes steadily, chatting up the characters at the bar. This could be a scene out of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, much of which was filmed nearby.
7:20 P.M. "Salut, ma chérie, ça va?" Keren Ann calls out to a toothless woman camped out on a stoop on Place des Abbesses, the neighborhood's main square. "Do you have enough cigarettes?" Keren Ann supplies this local fixture with smokes, while the nearby épicerie provides her with a daily liter of milk. "I've known her for seven years. She calls me Barbara, and herself Mademoiselle Gangster," Keren Ann says. "She says she's a messenger sent to protect the area from cars that are actually aliens."
7:30 P.M. It's a half-hour until closing at Keren Ann's favorite book and music store, L'Oeil du Silence (91 Rue des Martyrs; 33-1/42-64-45-40), a shop with high ceilings and an eclectic mix. "It's best to come in and let yourself be surprised," she says, adding that this is where she goes for hard-to-find items like DVD's of Nico performing live and a John Cale biography in French and English. She pets the owners' dog and sits down on the mosaic tile floor to leaf through Emily Dickinson, translated into French.
9 P.M. At the intimate Café Burq (6 Rue Burq; 33-1/42-52-81-27; dinner for two $64), co-owner Frédéric Péneau pours the singer a glass of champagne at the bar, which is lit with sherbet-colored Christophe Pilletdesigned wall sconces. "When I'm writing or recording and I want a drink, I'll come here—it's just two steps from my house," Keren Ann says, pausing to double-kiss a flow of fashionable acquaintances who squeeze past the bar on their way to dinner. "It's a real neighborhood sort of place, but people come from all over town for their roasted Camembert," she says. Her favorites on the menu: veal liver sautéed with figs, rump steak with shallots and soy sauce, and a crumble with seasonal berries for dessert.
9:45 P.M. Down the hill from Les Abbesses in the Pigalle quarter, bustling Boulevard de Clichy is lined with sex shops and flooded with tourists spilling out of the topless show at the Moulin Rouge (82 Blvd. de Clichy; 33- 1/53-09-82-82; dinner and show from $210 per person). "I love this area," Keren Ann says. "There's something old and very French about it." She's also fond of Montmartre's music halls—especially the Théâtre Le Trianon (80 Blvd. Rochechouart; 33-1/44-92-78-00), with its red velvet seats and slanted stage.
10:15 P.M. Nights often end at the kitschy cabaret-style bar Aux Noctambules (24 Blvd. de Clichy; 33-1/46-06-16-38), where the drink specialty is a Vodka Pomme Frozenn made in a slush machine and the house act is an old-timer named Pierre Carré, who sings French classics while playing a keyboard or an accordion. "You come in here at 2 a.m. and order a digestif or a bottle of champagne," Keren Ann says, "and he sings all these very cheesy—in a good way— songs from his heart."
11 P.M. From Aux Noctambules, it's a short walk back to her apartment, and Keren Ann strolls down the middle of the lamplit, rain-dampened streets. "I love the way Paris smells after the rain," she says. "Wherever I am, I always feel as if I'm somewhere else. But when I come here, I come home."