T+L's Guide to Secret Paris
Visit “The Big Neighborhood”
Time for an American bakery metaphor: imagine the cinnamon bun–shaped map of Paris. Now slice a large wedge from the top section. You’ll end up cutting the Ninth, 10th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Arrondissements, or what Sébastien Guénard, the chef at the fêted Abbesses bistro Miroir, calls “le grand quartier.” In the short time since I’ve moved to the area, I’ve watched the steady onslaught of gentrification (Hello, Kiehl’s; thanks for popping up, Comme des Garçons pocket shop). The same is true for Pigalle and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, just to the south; Batignolles, to the west (the rest of the 17th was already pretty haute-bourgeois); the Canal St.-Martin, in the 10th; Belleville, in the 19th and 20th; and other areas in the 19th that surround the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. I’ll add the Oberkampf piece of the 11th to the east, too; though it’s not geographically in le grand quartier, it shares the same earthy spirit.
There are few major tourist landmarks in these areas, except the Palais Garnier opera house and the Butte-Montmartre, a hectic scene whose kitschy church of Sacré-Coeur and pseudo-artists I avoid like a tropical disease. If you’re afraid you might miss Paris’s traditional beauty wandering outward a bit from the attraction-heavy center, know that while Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s grand boulevards and soaring town houses have become the de facto look of Paris, his 1860’s overhaul homogenized a lot of the city’s architecture. In fact, the areas he left alone (Montmartre’s dollhouse scale and picturesque steps; the Marais’ medieval warrens) are more apt reminders of the Paris of long ago.
As with so many “outer” neighborhoods that are now “in,” the traditional working-class immigrant population of the northeast has been di