T+L's Guide to Secret Paris
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A close cousin to bistronomy is a wave of wine bars with a similar approach to impeccable ingredients and low-key refinement. The Parisian wine bar—a working-class hangout with copious by-the-glass choices that thrives at lunchtime—seems like it’s been with us forever. In fact it’s a creation of the post–World War II period, when France wrested its wine industry back from the industrial swill it was producing during the war. In 1954, some Beaujolais producers started the Coupe du Meilleur Pot award, which is managed by the Académie Rabelais, a food society peopled by French critics and scholars. Its criteria nail the ideal wine bar equation: great wines by the glass, a favorable ratio of quality to price, and an in-house proprietor. That last element is crucial, as a jocular owner full of opinions is just as important as what’s on tap.
You couldn’t ask for better than Gilles Bénard at Quedubon, in the 19th, which opened in 2007 and has yet to attract the Rabelaisians—though the local media attention it has received makes me think it’s only a matter of time. Minutes off the east side of the Buttes-Chaumont, with modern but warm interiors, Quedubon’s list has some 150 vins natures, or beyond-organic wines untainted by additives or chemicals. If Bénard, a voluble leftist of the old school, is on site, and your French is passable, you’re in for a good time. “People in Paris now are searching for quality and authenticity,” he says after an amusing digression about the sensual importance of the mouth. “Maybe it would have been easier for me to have opened in Sentier [the garment district in the Second Arrondissement], but the crowd that comes here is not coming by chance. Here we have a whole conversation with guests. We’re doing real sommellerie, trying to transmit a culture.” Bénard sings the praises of Olivier Camus’ equally impressive